Award-winning writer Christine Sneed is the author of Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry and Little Known Facts. Christine will give a talk called “Finding Your Voice” at this year’s Chicago Writers Conference. Here, she gives us a sneak peek on this important aspect of writing.
What is voice?
In my inexpert opinion, I think of “voice” as related to the energy and prevailing emotion that underlie a work of fiction or poetry. Like tone, it’s the atmosphere, I guess you could say, of the poem or story (or film or song or play or commercial.) There’s a difference, for example, between how a Lorrie Moore story “feels” and how a Nadine Gordimer story feels, or a Monty Python movie and Schindler’s List.
Voice is linked very closely to how writers express character, and to the words they choose to get their ideas across. If a character says, “I could eat a horse, hooves and all. Make me a foot-long hoagie now!” this voice is quite different from a character who expresses the same feelings in this way: “I haven’t eaten in two days. Will you consider making me a sandwich?” Voice is conveyed here by sentence length, word choice, and tone. The first voice is somewhat demanding and playful; the second voice is polite and likely more shy or less familiar with the person s/he is talking to.
When did you feel you had finally developed your own literary voice?
I don’t know if I’ve ever reached a specific point where I thought, “Ah-ha, now I know what I’m doing!” But in the last several years or so, I think I’ve been writing mostly in a certain tone–comic but also sincere. That’s my default mode/voice, I think.
What authors are masters of their own voice? In other words, whose voice do you find intoxicating?
One author who I think is just spectacular at voice is Scott Spencer. He writes in the first person incredibly well (probably the hardest POV to get right). His novels Willing, Men in Black (no relation to the films), Endless Love, and A Ship Made of Paper (these last two were both finalists for the National Book Award incidentally) are all so good.
I also love Deborah Eisenberg, especially her stories “Twilight of the Superheroes” and “What It Was Like, Seeing Chris,” and “Some Other, Better Otto.” She has such a light touch, which I think is one of the key characteristics of good writing and a memorable narrative voice.
Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer-prize winning novelist for The Known World and his most recent book, All Aunt Hagar’s Children–so masterful.
Also, J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Holy cow, are they amazing novels!
Can’t wait until October to see Christine? Then, join us for Party With a Purpose, where you can enjoy readings from her and Eric Charles May. Admission includes a drink, appetizers, access to our silent auction, and a performance from the Q Brothers. Get your tickets here.
Want to know what other speakers and panels will be at Chicago Writers Conference? Check out our schedule!