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Most modern and contemporary poets write free verse poetry. Unlike traditional poetry, which is based on a particular metrical pattern and often a rhyme scheme, the free verse poet writes poetry without rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Read any collection of modern or contemporary poetry, and you’ll quickly discover that the poets have composed their poetry as free verse.
Many contemporary poets have written memorable free verse poetry–poems that will stand the test of time. A century from now, readers will view these free verse poems as works of art. Read the poetry of the poet laureates, such as Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, Louise Gluck, Rita Dove, and you’ll experience something delightful, something memorable. These poets have written poems about anything you can think of, such as war, happiness, death, misery. Here’s a good free verse poem by poet laureate Rita Dove called “Golden Oldie:”
I made it home early, only to get
stalled in the driveway, swaying
at the wheel like the blind pianist caught in tune
meant for more than two hands playing.
The words were easy, crooned
by a young girl dying to feel alive, to discover
a pain majestic enough
to live by. I turned the air-conditioning off,
leaned back to float on a film of sweat,
and listened to the sentiment:
Baby, where did our love go?-a lament
I greedily took in
without a clue who my lover
might be, or where to start looking.
She writes in the first person, shares an anecdote or story, uses the poetic device of allusion, creates a conversational tone with language that all readers can understand. At the end, she shares a universal truth about youth. This poem has meaning. Good free verse poetry has meaning, like an illuminating quotation by a famous person.
In this article, I’ll provide you with an overview of free verse poetry. The following will be covered:
- Types of free verse
- Building blocks of free verse
- Voice and style of the poet
Types of Free Verse
Free verse poets have written about any subject you can imagine. From love, to hate, to death, to a personal experience, to a fleeting moment. For instance, the poem in the introduction is a narrative. It tells a story. It could also be an anecdote. Once you start reading modern and contemporary poetry, you discover that poets write various types of free verse. Here are some of the most common types:
- Narrative poem. The poet tells a story. Often, there is rising action, climax, and resolution, like a short story. The poet composes the narrative by using simile, metaphor, imagery, vivid description, line breaks, and so forth.
- Prose poem. The poet uses complete sentences and the techniques of poetry, simile, metaphor, imagery, and vivid description. Stanzas become paragraphs. The language of the poem is lyrical.
- Anecdote. The poet describes some incident or experience or event that is humorous or interesting, and ends the poem with some insight. Poets also use anecdotes to illustrate a truth.
- Image poem. The poet writes a poem about an image, and relies on language that appeals to the sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing to describe the image. The poet also composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth.
- Meditative poem. The poet begins by describing a scene. This scene triggers a meditation in the mind of the poet. The poet then returns to the initial scene with better understanding or resolution. The poet composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth.
- Lyrical poem. A traditional form adopted by many modern/contemporary poets. The poet writes a poem expressing personal thoughts and feelings about an idea, person, experience. The poet uses imagery and description to create a mood. The poet also uses sound effects to make the poem sound lyrical, like music. These sound effects include alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, internal or end rhyme.
- Confessional poem. A poem that is autobiographical. The poet writes about personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Instead of looking outward, observing the world, and then writing about it, the poet peers inward to the psyche, writes about the world in relation to themselves. The poet composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth. See the poetry of Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, Jane Kenyon.
- Elegy. A traditional form adopted by some modern/contemporary poets. A poem that laments the death of a loved one, such as a friend. The poet composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth. See “Oh Caption! My Caption” by Walt Whitman and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickenson
Unlike a traditional poem, such as a sonnet or blank verse, where the poet must follow particular rules, such a particular number of lines in a stanza, a particular metrical pattern, and a particular rhyme scheme, the free verse poet can compose a poem in any way he/she desires, without adhering to any rules. However, if the poet aspires to write good poetry, or memorable poetry, or poetry that is worthy of publication, then the poet must follow the conventions and guidelines of free verse poetry. A good free verse poem uses the following building blocks or techniques:
Syntax and grammar. Poets use a variety of syntax, such as fragments, simple sentences, compound sentences, periodic sentences, and parallel structure. They follow the rules of punctuation and the rules of grammar. They use both action verbs and concrete nouns . They write in the active voice instead of the passive voice. (The noun performs the action of the verb.) They use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. (to avoid wordiness and repeating an idea that can be presented by the right verb or right noun.)
Line breaks and Line length. Poets use line breaks such as white space, enjambment, or end-stop (period or comma) to indicate the reader to pause, to create emphasis, and to create rhythm. They write short lines to speed up the pace, and long lines to slow down the pace.
Figurative Language. Most good free verse poetry includes simile or metaphor. A simile makes a comparison using “like” or “as.” A metaphor makes a comparison with “is” or “of” by stating that one thing is another. Example: She is the devil in disguise. And when required, the poet also includes symbolism and allusion and personification.
Figurative language can make a poem pleasurable to read. It can clarify meaning. It entertains the reader. It turns the ordinary into something meaningful, something memorable. Often an abstract idea can be made concrete to the reader by using similes or metaphors. Example: Love is a drug….We are addicted to love. In the poem, “Golden Oldies”, poet Rita Dove uses the technique of allusion to make reference to pop culture. She writes: “Baby, where did our love go?” It is a famous song by The Supremes, who were a popular singing group in the 60’s and early 70’s.
Appropriate word choice or diction. Free verse poets choose words for their meaning (denotation or dictionary meaning), implied meaning (connotation), and sound (rhyme, alliteration, assonance). Example: The boy sat on the soiled sofa/sipped a cold soda/ read a comic book. Most free verse poets use everyday language, words that you’d here in a conversation. The following poem by Louise Gluck is a good example of how poets can use everyday language to create a powerful poetry:
I was born cautious, under the sign of Taurus.
I grew up on an island, prosperous,
in the second half of the twentieth century;
the shadow of the Holocaust
hardly touched us.
I had a philosophy of love, a philosophy
of religion, both based on
early experience within family.
And if when I wrote I used only a few words
it was because time always seemed to me short
as though it could be stripped away
at any moment.
And my story, in any case, wasn’t unique
though, like everyone else, I had a story,
a point of view.
A few words were all I needed:
nourish, sustain, attack.
Imagery. Good free verse poets use language that appeals to reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. The poet uses imagery to show the reader what happened or what the poet experienced with his/her senses. Imagery brings a person, object, image, moment, experience to life. Imagery recreates what the poet experienced or imagined as a the scene in the mind of the reader. Imagery helps to create “word pictures.”
Symbolism. On occasion, the free verse poet uses symbol, metonymy, or synecdoche. A symbol refers to something other than its literal meaning. Some poets use well-recognized symbols. ( Examples: cross, dove, bible) Others create their own. (A blooming yellow tulip in the garden can be a symbol of birth or springtime.) Metonymy is a figure of speech in which the poet replaces the word of one thing with the word or phrased that is closely associated with it. (Example: Crown instead of Monarch) A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which the poet substitutes the “part for the whole.” This part or attribute or characteristic is used by the poet to refer to the entire person, place, thing, object, and so forth. (Example: The teenager purchased a “set of wheels.” Wheels refer to a car or truck.
Sound Devices. A memorable poem has a pleasing sound when read aloud. This pleasuring sound is created with particular poetic devices, such as alliteration (repetition of consonant sound of two or more words on a line or lines) and assonance (repetition of vowel sounds of two or more words on a line or lines). When required, poets also use onomatopoeia, internal rhyme, or end rhyme. Free verse poetry is meant to be read for its meaning and sound. Both invoke an emotional reaction.
Rhythm. A good free verse poem has rhythm or beat. This rhyme is based on the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables on a line. Meter can be part of rhythm. For instance, a poet can include rhythm by using a particular metrical pattern. Though a free verse poem doesn’t have to comply to a metrical pattern, such as iambic pentameter, many modern and contemporary poets rely on “syllabic meter” to create rhythm. For instance, the poetic might create a poem in which each line has the same number of syllables.
Poets also use other techniques, such as parallel structure and repetition, to create rhythm.
Line break is also an important way to create rhythm. The poet can use white space, enjambment, or end-stop, such as a period or coma.
Poets also create rhythm by changing the pace. The poet can speed up or slow down the pace of a poem, make it fast or slow, smooth or interrupted—even irregular by using different lengths of line. A long line slows down the pace, while a short line speeds up the pace. Usually a longer line has more syllables than a short line.
Point of view. Free verse poetry can be written from different poets of view—first person (“I”), second person (“you”), or third person (“he/she”). Before selecting a point of view, the poet should determine how he/she is going to present the poem to the reader. The poet has two choices: First, the poet can turn inward–and then write about thoughts, feelings, perceptions. Secondly, the poet can turn outward—and write about other people, objects, things, events, topics in the world. If the poet turns inward, to the psyche or self, then the poem is usually written in the first person (“I.”) If the poet turns outward—to view the outside world, the poet can still write in the first person. However, usually the poet writes in the third person using (“he/she.”)
Sometimes the poet writes in the second-person point of view using “you.” In this case, the poet is referring directly to the reader. Example: You smoke your cigarette/ You read your paper/You sip your morning coffee/You ponder how another day will unfold/You’ve learned that a day can play out like a football game/ Often you don’t know who will win until the very end.
Sometimes, the poet invents a persona, and then composes a poem as if he were someone else. For instance, the poet might write a poem in the voice of someone dead or alive or famous. Most free verse poems are written in the first-person point of view (“I”), or the third person point of view (“he/she”).
Appealing Voice and Style. Voice and style are used interchangeably. They refer to tone, word choice/diction, and sentence variety. A good poem has a respectful tone, is constructed with everyday language, and a variety of sentence structures, such as fragment, parallel structure, simple sentence, compound sentences, and more. For instance, here is a poem, written by Ted Kooser, that is like a conversation:
Flying at Night
by Ted Kooser
Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on the water. Below us
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.
Voice and Style of the Poet
Whether you write fiction, poetry, personal essays, voice and style refer to the same thing. The most important aspects of style or voice are tone of the writing, word choice, and sentence structure. Every particular writer has a unique voice or style that is expressed on the page. Voice or style is what the readers hears when they read a writer’s work. Style or voice is developed as the writer gains more experience. In other words, the more the poet writes and learns about poetry, the more polished the style. Favorite poets will have a voice you like. Several elements create the poet’s voice or style. These include:
- Subject Matter. The subject you choose to write about will contribute to the voice of your poem. For instance, if you desire to write about grief and death, you’ll probably want to use a serious, respectful, melancholy tone.
- Word Choice. The types of words you choose, the sound of these words, and the meaning of these words will contribute to your voice. A good poet uses everyday language, which can be understood. A good poet also writes poetry that has a pleasing sound when read aloud.
- Sentence Types. The sentence types you use are part of your voice that you express on the page. You can use different types of sentences, such as a fragment, simple sentence, compound sentence, complex sentence, fragment, and so forth. A short sentence speeds up the pace, where as a longer sentence slows the pace.
- Grammar. Poets are told to use the active voice, concrete and specific details, concrete nouns, and action verbs. Each contributes to the voice of a poem. You should following these suggestions to help create a pleasing voice.
- Figurative language/Poetic Devices. In part, your style is determined by the poetic devices you use to create your poems. You might use alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia to create a particular sound. You might also use simile, metaphor, imagery, symbolism to create an entertaining poetry and to explain. Many poets prefer particular poetic devices over others. Most good free verse uses simile or metaphor.
- Tone. The tone of the poem is determined by the poet’s attitude toward the reader and the subject. The best tone is friendly, conversational, respectful. Write your poetry as if you’re talking to a friend.
- Point of View. The personal point of view ( “I”) is more intimate. Use it to write about yourself. The third person (“he/she”) provides some narrative distance. Use it write about the world around you.
- Life experience. Every writer is socialized by the world in which he/she lives. Religion, the mass media, education, family, personal experience shape the writers view of the world.
The four most important aspects of developing style are tone, word choice, sentence variety/syntax, and poetic technique.
For more information on writing free verse poetry, read the following books:
- How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch
- The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland
- The Poet Laureate Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt
- A Poet’s Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie
- Creating Poetry by John Drury
- The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes
- The Poet’s Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie
- Making Your Own Days by Kenneth Koch
- In the Poem of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit
By Dave Hood
Your “writer’s voice” is about writing style. It is what makes you authentic, original, different from other writers. It is the voice you use to write a poem, personal essay, short story or novel. It is what readers hears when they read your words.
Read a poem by Charles Simic, Mary Oliver, Robert Frost, or any other memorable poet, you’ll quickly discover their compelling and authentic voice. Read the short stories of Poe, Atwood, Munro, and you will hear different voices expresses as you read. Read an personal essay by E.B. White or Joan Didion–you’ll discover other voices.
A writer’s voice is their “public persona, which is revealed on the page when you read. Reading enable you to hear the writer speak. The writer speaks by writing down words on a page.
You can express your voice on the page in many ways. In my opinion, the most important components of a writer’s voice are word choice/diction, sentence variety, and the writer’s tone.
In this article, I’ll explain how a writer’s voice is revealed, suggest the type of voice to use, and explain how to develop your “writer’s voice.”
How is a Writer’s Voice Revealed to the Reader?
The writer’s voice is expressed on the page by word choice or diction, tone of the writing, the use of imaginative language, such as simile, metaphor, and imagery, and the types of sentences or syntax the writer chooses to craft a piece of writing.
Word choice has to do with the type of language the writer uses, such as simple, everyday words or grandiloquent words. Memorable writers avoid clichés. Instead they use language in a fresh and original way. Often they share an interesting word that we’ve never heard—a meaningful word that has power, that is accurate, that is precise. For instance: This morning, I met a curmudgeon at the supermarket. Instead of writing: “This morning, I met an old man…”
Tone refers to the writer’s attitude toward his readers and subject. A writer can have many types of tone. It often depends on the genre and type of writing. Tone is a big part of a writer’s voice. Tone refers to your attitude to the reader and about what you are writing about. For example, when you read the essays of David Sedaris, you hear a humorous tone. When you read the poetry of Charles Simic, you often hear a “whimsical” tone.
Two popular types of tones are humorous and serious. A person writing an essay about “death” will often use a serious, respectful tone. A humorist might write with an ironic or witty tone. Writers should strive to use a conversational tone. You write as though you are having a conversation with a friend. You must never write as though you are preaching or acting as though you are superior to the reader, unless you want the reader to toss your work in the garbage.
Writing style refers to syntax or sentence variety, such as the use of loose and periodic sentences and sentence fragments, simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentence. Use of the active voice or passive voice. Use of powerful verbs. Writing with nouns and verbs–or verbose writing.
A writer’s voice, especially in creative writing, is expressed by the writer’s ability to write imaginatively. Memorable poets, short story writers, novelists, essayists are able to use literary devices skillfully. Imaginative language has to do with the tools of creative writing–using simile, metaphor, personification, imagery, alliteration, and more. Some writers use few similes and metaphors–others them a great deal. Great writers make every word count–serve some purpose.
What Type of Voice to Use
We like particular poems, have favorite short stories, read essays, and experience delight by reading other works of certain writers for many reasons. One of the reasons has to do with “the writer’s voice.” How the voice sounds as we read the words on the page. How the ideas are presented to the reader on the page. The actual content of the work, and so forth.
In the splendid book about writing by Constance Hale called “Sin and Syntax: How to Craft a Wickedly Effective Prose,” she writes: “A strong voice is conversational. The writer leaves us with a sense that we are listening to a skilled raconteur rather than passing our eyes over ink on paper. This involves more than just write the way you talk.”
The writer must pay attention to the sound of words, the rhythm of sentences, the word choice and its connotation, sentence variety. Most importantly, the writer must revise his work, perhaps many times, before the writing is complete. The first draft is never the final draft, unless you are not a passionate writer.
The voice of a writer is determined by many things, including life experience, education, beliefs, values, interests, and passions—everything the writer brings to the experience of writing.
The best voice to use is conversational, informal, friendly–as though you are having conversation with a friend over coffee.
How Can You Develop Your Own Writing Voice?
Part of learning to write is developing your own writing voice. How do you do this? There are several paths. The most important advice I have read was written by Elizabeth Berg, the author of “Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True.” She suggests that you can develop your writing voice by “putting down on to paper the words you are hearing in your head.” In other words, be yourself as you write. Use your own words, and don’t imagine you are someone else as you write. Write honestly—share your thoughts, feelings, opinions, impressions, stories that are important to you. And share them by using your own language–how you speak. She also suggests that you should not write about what you know but that you should write about what you love, what you are passionate about.
Next, you should write often and regularly. Start by keeping a journal. Write everyday in this journal, recording observations, interesting quotations, memorable lyrics, overheard conversation, lines of poetry. Write poetry, anecdotes, short, short essays. Write using stream of consciousness. Write by freewriting. Record “small, fleeting moments.”Ask a question to yourself, and then write an answer. Include interesting photograph, news stories, advice columns. Write about your emotional truth—how you felt about something. In your journal, you can write about anything. Journal writing helps you develop the habit of writing and your writing skills. It can also be a place where you record “possible ideas” for a poem, short story, and personal essay.
Also, learn all about writing style. The best and easiest book to read is “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. It provides the rules and guidelines of a good writing style. If you intend to write essays or other creative nonfiction, you should also read “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. Both of these books are classics, are used in university and college writing courses, and are recommended by most writers. Every writer should have copies of these inexpensive paperbacks on their bookshelf for reference.
Next, read poetry, short stories, and essays of writer’s you admire. Analyze how they have written their work. If you are not sure, read “How to Read Like a Writer” by Francine Prose.
Fourthly, make sure you understand the rules and guidelines of grammar, such as for use of verbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, and more. If you don’t know these rules or guidelines, pick up a copy of “Woe Is I:The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English” by Patricia T. O’Connor. Another great book that presents grammar in with a humorous tone is “The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. I also recommend “The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magical and Mystery of Practical English” by Roy Peter Clark.
Learn the rules of punctuation. How to use the comma, exclamation mark, question mark, quotation marks, semi colon, colon. Essentially, you must memorize the rules. To learn the rules of punctuation, I suggest you read “The Glamour of Grammar” by Roy Peter Clark.
Learn to the major types of sentence styles and then use sentence variety in your work. The syntax of a sentence is an important feature of the writer’s voice. To develop your own voice, learn to write simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentences. Learn when to use a sentence fragment and how to write using parallel construction. Learn how to use items in a series. Learn how to write both periodic or cumulative sentences. Where can you go for advice? Pick up a copy of Sin And Syntax by Constance Hale or The Glamour of Grammar by Roy Peter Clark.
The language choices a writer makes important ingredient of the writer’s voice. Therefore, you should own a dictionary and thesaurus. Use them for enjoyment and to improve your language skills. Develop your language skills by looking up the meaning of words you don’t understand in a dictionary. Find the precise word by checking your thesaurus, which includes synonyms. To expand your vocabulary, begin learning a word a day. Use the words you learn in your writing. Don’t write to impress. Instead, use language to express yourself, to communicate meaning, to entertain, to share important ideas or knowledge or wisdom.
If you aspire to become a creative writer, you should also learn how to write imaginatively. Imaginative writing involves learning how to show and tell the reader, writing vivid descriptions of sensory imagery–language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. It involves using literary devices of simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism, and other devices that you find in fiction and poetry and creative nonfiction. There are countless books on the market that you can purchase. For a good overview on how to write creatively and imaginatively, I suggest you purchase “Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft” by writer/instructor Janet Burroway. It’s a superb text that will help you.
Another way to develop your voice is to share emotional truth in your writing. It means telling others how you feel. For instance, if you lost your job–tell your readers how it felt. If you were diagnosed with a serious disease, share your thoughts and feelings with your readers. If you split up with a girlfriend or marital partner, tell the audience how you felt by expressing the emotional truth. Keep in mind that two people can have different emotional views on a situation. And so , there is no right or wrong “emotional truth.” Emotional truth has to do with how you felt about a person, about an experience , about an event.
A few final points: It takes time to develop your writing voice, providing you write on a regular basis. Many writing instructors suggest you keep a journal and experiment in it. In part, developing your voice is an unconscious effort–you learn by reading and writing, without making a conscious effort. In part, you can make a conscious decision to develop your voice. For instance, you can learn to read like a writer. You can learn grammar, spelling, punctuation. You can experiment with language and sentence variety. You can make a conscious choice about what sort of tone to use. The easiest way to develop your voice is to “put down on paper” what is on your mind or in your head, using your own words.
Your writing voice is what a reader hears when they read your words. Your writing voice is your “public persona,” which is expressed in your writing. It is revealed in the language that you use, the types of sentences that you use, and your tone–your attitude toward the reader and the topic or idea you are writing about.
To learn more about how to develop your developing and polishing your writer’s voice, read the following superb books:
- The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
- The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark
- The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon
- Woe is I: the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Connor
- Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway
Style and tone are elements of fiction. The writer uses a certain style and tone to craft the story. Style refers to the writer’s choice of diction, sentence structure, literary techniques, and use of rhythm. For example, Hemingway wrote very short sentences and he used simple words. George Orwell, on the other hand, used long sentences, including periodic and cumulative sentence types, and more complex diction. Cormac McCarthy, in The Road, used many sentence fragments and everyday language. He also referred to the main characters as “the boy” and “the man”. They were never addressed by name.
In fiction writing, the writer’s style is also created by the choice of literary devices that are used to create the story, such as imagery, symbolism, allegory, personification, and other figurative language.
Tone, on the other hand, refers to the writer’s attitude toward his/her story and to the reader. The writer’s tone assists in creating a mood or atmosphere for the story. Philip Roth uses a humorous tone in Portnoy’s Complaint.
This article discusses the following:
- Narrative Voice
- The writer’s voice
Every fiction writer has a unique style. The writer’s style is based on many choices about diction, syntax/sentence structure, detail, dialogue, literary devices, and rhythm.
The writer’s style comes from the diction or word choice he/she uses. Does the writer use simple language or complex language? Is the language concrete or abstract? What does a word connote? What does the word denote?
The writer’s style comes from the types of sentence structure/syntax he/she uses. Does the writer use short or long sentences? Sentence fragments? Periodic or cumulative sentences? Simple or complex sentences? For instance, Cormac McCarthy, in The Road, uses many sentence fragments to tell his story.
Another way that the writer reveals his/her style is by the amount of detail presented to the reader. Does the writer go into great depth? Or does the writer use summary narrative or sparse prose?
And the fiction writer’s style is revealed by the content of dialogue. The dialogue a writer uses reveals a lot about each character, including the background and education of the character, his or her motivations, and what each character ultimately believes about the world. Much of what the writer says is based on personal experience, values, biases, and prejudices.
When reading passages of dialogue, the reader needs to consider how the characters’ remarks reflect or accentuate the writer’s voice. What do the characters say? How do the characters say it?
The writer’s style is also expressed by the choice of literary techniques the writer uses to construct the story, such as imagery, symbolism, personification, irony, metaphor, and symbolism. Many certain literary techniques over others.
The writer can reveal his/her style by the use of rhythm, which is the pattern of flow and movement created by the writer’s choice of words and the arrangement of sentences. What types of repetition does the writer use? Does the writer use alliteration? Rhyme? How does the writer use parallel structure? Single words? Fragments?
What is tone? It refers to the fiction writer’s attitude toward his/her subject and toward the readers. The writer’s tone creates an atmosphere or mood for the story. A writer’s tone can be humorous, satirical, passionate, zealous, sarcastic, condescending, and so on. The tone can be anything the writer chooses. For instance, humour is an important tone in children’s literature. Types of humour used by writers include surprise, exaggeration, incongruity, absurdity, and parody.
The writer’s choice of diction often reveals his/her tone. Tone is often expressed by the connotation of words. For instance, a certain expression might be interpreted as sarcasm. Another expression can be interpreted as vulgar.
Tone is also about the effect the writing has on the reader. What mood does the writer create in the mind of the reader?
The Narrative Voice
What is the narrative voice? It is the quality of the narrative, whether the story is told in the first-person or the third-person. It is how the writer chooses to tell the story–casually, seriously, humorously, and so forth. The Narrative voice will belong to a character within the story, such as the protagonist. Or when the story is told in the third-person, the narrative voice will belong to an unknown character, someone who is not a participant in the story.
Before writing the story, the fiction writer needs to decide what narrative voice to use: Serious? Comic? Detached? Or entertaining? Once the narrative voice is selected, the writer can determine what sort of diction and sentence structure to use.
The Writer’s Voice
The narrative voice is an extension of the writer’s voice. The writer’s voice consists of many elements, including style and tone. But the writer’s is created by many other factors, such as socioeconomic background, education, belief system, values, writing experience, and so forth.
Frequently, a writer’s voice is expressed through the following elements:
- Diction. The word choice of the writer.
- Syntax. The sentence patterns chosen by the writer.
- Subject matter. What the writer chooses to write about and his/her views on that subject matter.
- Tone. The attitude that the writer intends to convey about the subject to the reader.
Developing a Unique Voice
How does the aspiring writer acquire his/her own voice? It takes time to create a voice. It begins by developing an original style. From style, the writer needs to write and gain experience. Over time, the writer’s voice emerges. It is a process.
To help develop a unique voice, the aspiring writer can do the following:
- Learn to write well. Learn the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. And then learn when to break these rules.
- Expand his/her vocabulary. The writer must use the dictionary to learn the meaning of unfamiliar words. The writer should also use a thesaurus to find similar words with different shades of meaning.
- Read widely and deeply. The writer ought to read fiction by the great writers. The writer also needs to read nonfiction, like biographies, and person essays. By doing this, the writer can learn how the masters constructed memorable fiction.
- Analyze the styles of great writers, such as Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, and George Orwell. Analysis teaches the writer how to create setting, plot, characters, and use other literary devices.
- Experiment with different writing styles, such as word choice and syntax. Only through practice and experience will the aspiring writer develop a unique style.
- Learn the element of fiction and use them. (Plot, setting, character, conflict, and so forth.)
- Learn the literary techniques and use them. (Imagery, symbolism, allusion, and figures of speech, such as simile, metaphor, and personification.)
- Make writing a lifestyle choice. The aspiring writer must write every day. Only by writing on a regular basis will the writer develop his/her unique voice.
- Write in a way that comes naturally. The writer needs to use words and phrases that are his/her own. Imitation is acceptable.
- The writer also needs to place himself/herself in the background. To do this, the writer needs to write in a way that draws the reader to the sense and style of the writing, rather than to the tone and temper of the writer. (Strunk and White’s Elements of Style)
- Avoid using a breezy manner. The breezy style is a work of an egocentric, the writer who imagines that everything that comes to mind is of interest and ought to be written on the page. Instead, the writer needs to make every word count, each word should move the story forward, and each word needs to have a purpose. (Strunk and White’s Elements of Style)
To learn more on style, the aspiring fiction writer ought to read “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White.
Over time, and with practise and experimentation, the aspiring writer will develop his/her unique voice.
By analyzing a short story or novel, you gain a better understanding of the story. You also acquire a better appreciation of fiction and literature. And, you can learn how the writer used the elements of fiction and various literary techniques, such as simile, metaphor, and imagery to create a memorable story. Analyzing fiction will also help you learn how to write your own stories.
Here is how to analyze a work of fiction:
1. Plot. It refers to the main events that take place throughout the story.
Questions to consider:
- What are the series of events in the story?
- Does the writer use flashback? If so, how?
- Does the writer use flashforward? If so, how?
- How does the writer create suspense?
- What types of conflict occur throughout the story?
- What is the turning point of the story?
2. Setting. It refers to the time, place, and social and historical context.
Questions to consider:
- What is the setting in the story?
- Does the setting function as an antagonist in the story? If so, how?
- How does the setting contribute to the story?
- How does the writer use setting to create a story that is believable?
- How does the setting impact the protagonist in the story?
- How does the setting impact the plot in the story?
- What is the mood throughout the story? How does the setting impact the mood of the story?
3. Characters. It refers to the protagonist, villain, and secondary characters in the story. The writer develop a character by what the character thinks, what the character does, what the character says, what the character looks like, and by what others say about the character. All stories include a protagonist. Many stories include an antagonist or villain. Many stories also include secondary or minor characters.
Questions to consider:
- What does the character say and do? What does their dialogue or behaviour tell you about their values, beliefs, interests, motives?
- What does the character look like? What does this suggest about the character?
- What conflicts does the character experience? How does the character deal with these conflicts?
- How does the character change as the story progresses?
- Who is the villain in the story? Why?
- Who is the protagonist in the story? Why?
4. Theme. It refers to the main idea of the story. It is the truth the writer reveals. Often, the writer doesn’t explicitly reveal the theme. Some stories don’t have a theme.
Questions to consider:
- What was the writer’s purpose in writing the story?
- What is the theme of the story? Is it implicit or explicit?
- Does the theme offer a new insight into the human condition or human experience?
- What message or lesson does the writer wish the reader to understand from the story?
5. Point of View. It refers to the person who is telling the story. This is the narrator of the story. For instance, the story can be told from the first-person perspective, such as the protagonist or eye witness. Or, the story can be told from the third-person perspective, which means the narrator is not a character in the story. Remember that the author and narrator are not the same. The narrator is the person who is telling the story.
Questions to consider:
- What point of view does the writer use?
- What does the narrator know about the characters in the story?
- How does the point of view impact the story?
- Does the author use point of view to reveal or conceal?
- How does the narrator impact the story? For instance, the first-person narrator only knows what he sees or hears. Bu the third-person-omniscient narrator is all knowing.
- Why did the author choose the particular point of view?
6. Imagery. It refers to the sensory images that the writer uses to develop the story. Sensory images are word pictures that appeal to one or more of the senses, such as sight, taste, smell, touch, and hearing.
Questions to consider:
- What types of imagery does the writer use? How does it make the story believable?
- Identify some passages where the writer uses imagery? What types of imagery does the writer use? Why does the writer use it?
- How does the imagery affect the mood of the story?
7. Symbolism. The author uses a symbol to mean something other than its literal meaning. For instance, an owl can represent wisdom.
Questions to consider:
- What sorts of symbols are used by the writer?
- Do any characters act as symbols? Why?
- Do elements of the story’s setting appear symbolic? Why?
- Is a one symbol used throughout the story? Or do the symbols change as the story progresses?
8. Style and Tone. Style refers to the writer’s choice of language and the sentence types and structures. The tone refers to writer’s attitude toward the subject and readers.
Questions to consider:
- What types of diction does the writer use? Slang? Formal? Profanity? How does it impact the story? How does it impact you as the reader?
- What types of sentences does the writer use? Fragments? Simple? Complex? Rhetorical? How does it impact the story?
- What is the writer’s attitude toward the events in the story?
- What is the writer’s attitude toward the readers? Condescending? Ironic? Comic?
- How does the tone of the story impact your reading? For instance, do you laugh?
9. Figurative Language. The writer uses language to mean something other than its literal meaning, in order to produce a special effect or new meaning. Popular types of figurative language are simile, metaphor, and personification.
Questions to consider:
- Does the writer use simile? Why is it used?
- Does the writer use metaphor? Why is it used?
- Does the writer use personification? Why is it used?
10. Other Questions: What does the title suggest about the book? What did you enjoy about reading the book? What did you dislike about the book? Would you recommend it?