Friday, March 30, 2007

Q & A 106

How do you know if you’ve developed a strong and distinctive voice in your writing, or if the voice you’ve worked to develop and place with such care on the pages you’ve written, well, simply sucks very large eggs?

You know – like the bloated, pickled eggs that sit in large jars in corner bars in run-down urban pioneer areas of town. The kinds of bars that seem really cool when you’re young and you like to listen to the people on the barstools in those bars talking, solving the world’s problems by the seats of their pants. Cause what they have to say seems so refreshingly candid. So real. Then you go back years later, and the same people are still sitting there solving the latest world problems with the same shtick solutions. And the eggs in the jars look like they may be the same ones as well, except maybe they’re a tad greener. Those eggs. They’re distinctive in taste, all right, but who really wants to eat one?

In short, how do you know if the voice in your writing works? If it’s distinctive in a good way, and not a bad, egg-like way?

I recommend opening a Waffle House franchise. Note how many people eat all their eggs, how many try to spice them up with hot sauce, and how many leave them on their plates. If the eggs are rotten, the customers will let you know.

Oh, and if this question is breakfast, I'd say the eggs are done just right.


PJD said...

In short, how do you know if the voice in your writing works? If it’s distinctive in a good way, and not a bad, egg-like way?

Um... seems like the answer would be "join a critique group with some people whose opinions you trust." That means not those guys on the bar stools, not your mother, not your spouse. I recommend the guy who drives the #51A bus, the mom at school that looks like she's always just come from the scene of a hostage takeover, and the butcher.

Never, EVER approach someone at a cafe if they have a laptop open and look like they're writing. Unless, of course, they're eating those eggs.

Anonymous said...

If something is distinctive, generally speaking, it is noticeably different than other things in the category. Being noticeably different in writing style would seem to be a good thing, not because different is good in and of itself, but because your writing would be attention-getting, i.e. not the same old, same old. But if it is "bad" writing that is making it different, that's a horse of a different color. So who can you trust to determine the distinctiveness or stinkiness of your writing? Well, wouldn't that be authors, writers, professors, editors and maybe a snarky literary agent or two? I would value the opinion of people who have been acknowleged as knowing what is generally considered good writing; if four out of five such persons said my writing style was indeed distinctive (different, unusual) but grammatically incorrect or just plain bad, I would mercilessly pick the brain of the one who said it was not bad. Because good or bad writing is not just a matter of taste. There are rules. Of course, rules are made to be broken. That's a touchy subject, especially for people who think horses should only come in standard colors such as black or brown or red or white.
Now, about those eggs -- A freshly pickled egg (especially pickled pink in beet juice) and a cold beer on a hot day can really hit the spot. Try it sometime!!

Anonymous said...

There's an excellent essay (and EE has probably read it) by William Gass called "The Music of Prose." It can be found in literary collections. But it's all about voice, sound, the positioning of words, the choice of words. If can find it, read it. It can be found in an very good collection of prose and poetry in A Fine Excess edited by Kirby Gann and Kristin Herbert.

Write well!

Anonymous said...

I think the author is asking a rhetorical question for the benefit of the minions. Nice voice.

Anonymous said...

You've been to Oswego, NY, haven't you? They have eggs. Lots and lots of pickled eggs.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, EE.

Thanks, stick and move.

Chris Eldin said...

FWIW, I liked the voice in your message! What's your book about?

Twill said...

Whoever originally said "rules were made to be broken" was an idiot. Rules are made to make things happen a certain way. Rules of spelling and grammar are made to make comprehension possible. Break them only after you understand them thoroughly, only for a specific reason, and at your own risk.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, takoda.

I really appreciate your comment about the voice in my note.

Chris Eldin said...

Hi Anon, You're welcome. Your message reminds me of "Empire Falls," which I read last year. If you carry that voice throughout your novel, it should be great.

But along those lines, I thought Dave Eggers' "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" had a strong voice, but it became tiresome to read. It was just too much after a while (the sarcasm in his voice).

Anyway, Good luck!