Voices, and a critique revisited

A few weeks ago, I put up on the blog an excerpt of a fight scene I was having trouble with. Based on your feedback, I made some changes to the text, ones I hope create a smoother experience for the reader. Do they or don’t they? I’ll let you be the judge. (Clicking the image below will let you read both the original and updated versions, the latter of which I posted for readers just this past week, coincidentally enough.)

From Hell - rewritten action scene

I like to think the update works better within the confines of the chapter…but I’m never sure. Because working from feedback has always been difficult, for me.

I like getting critique, especially if it can help my story become better: tighter, clearer, more effective. But, I spent a large part of my early writing life aping others. My sister first, then my favorite published authors. To this day, when I read books while I’m in the middle of writing a story, I find myself incorporating others’ techniques and quirks. It’s been said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Though, when does imitation go too far, and we lose our own voice to the art?

I like my voice. It varies from story to story (admittedly, less successfully when I drag out a story for too long), but I like thinking of my stories as my own. When I get critiqued – especially when it’s good critique – I always hesitate. “If I change this phrase to x, will I sound more like A? If I edit that section to y, is my voice becoming like B?”

Even though I may not be destined for publishing, I still want my story to be the best it can be. So, in some cases, writing like favorite author A or insightful reader B might be better. But, does that make a story less mine, less me? I don’t know.

In the face of solid critique, how do you remember to keep to your own voice?

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11 thoughts on “Voices, and a critique revisited

  1. I like the changes you made, Mayumi. I think it reads more swiftly and with more energy.

    As far as voice/style, mine took years to evolve. And yes, I did pattern myself after favorite authors until I found my own comfy-cozy niche. But I think that’s to be expected. It is part of the learning process. I think that voice/style also differs with genres and with POV. I find that when I write in first-person POV my voice isn’t as lyrical and my style is less complex.

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    • Thanks, Kate. A lot of this post was about me crying to myself, I wanna write like her! LOL! But, I tried to keep it under control.

      I’ve found my voice changes the longer I’m with a story. I tend to start out crisp and become more indulgent with my prose the more time I spend on a story. Maybe readers would disagree, but that’s what I see when I go back for edits. I feel like my stuff is always in a first draft phase. 🙂

      I definitely do see a difference in voice between different genres. Not just for me, but for other writers, too. I’ve been reading a lot of Elmore Leonard, recently, across his span of work, and I can see the different styles coming in to play, between the modern crime fiction and the western. Real writers must learn when to harness which aspects of their many voices depending on the story they’re making. I’m hoping I learn how to do that, some day.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. I like the new version, too. It has the quick pace and tone to match the action scene.

    For me, voice is a slippery concept. I know at times I may be emulating writers I enjoy, even if subconsciously. And I also see a real difference in “my voice” between my different WIPs. I doubt whether someone who read them anonymously would know that all were written by the same person. So what, then, is my voice? Do I have one or several or none? And is that a good thing or the kiss of death for a writer? And it may be obvious from this response that I tend to over think everything when I should just write. 😉

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    • I’m totally with you, JM. The idea of “my voice” is one that keeps me up at night. Maybe the fact we’ve become so acutely aware of what is/may be/is not “our voice” is a good sign we’re stepping up the game? I like to think so. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. I think sometimes we don’t realise how much of a voice we have. 4am Kate said to me recently that I have a definite voice (she wasn’t talking about fiction) – she said that she thinks she would recognise a blog post I had written as being mine, without seeing my name attached to it. I found that interesting, but I think it’s true that we all have much more of a unique voice to our writing that we realise, even if we think that we’re using different voices. So if you’re incorporating critique, you naturally make it fit your voice; if it really doesn’t work it’s often just because you can’t it to gel with your voice. I don’t think our voice is anything to worry about, or to force, it’s just there if we let it be there!

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    • That’s a good point, Vanessa, one I hadn’t considered for myself. Our voice extends into everything we write. I like what you say about incorporating suggestions to fit our voices, too. You’re probably right that, if it’s not “sounding” like me, I’m likely forcing it.

      Thanks for stopping in! I know you’re super-busy (hope your studies are going well!), so I appreciate it. 🙂

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  4. Very nice, with a faster flow of intensity. I will say that your old version would probably be better seen as a scene in a movie, where they could do a slow-motion part for when Axton gets hit in the gut to show his realization of what had happened. 🙂

    As for keeping my voice after a critique, I haven’t really put any work out there for anyone to critique in a long while, so I don’t know what I do. I mean, except for that bit that you read a few days ago, but there wasn’t much critique there, nor was there enough to actually critique.

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    • I do miss that dashed call-out, but I think the scene flows more quickly in the updated version. 🙂

      One of the reasons I like getting good critique is it does make me think critically about my work. I think people are more willing to be upfront about criticism when you ask for it specifically. An editor or beta reader is expected to make comments, but a blog reader might feel like it’s not his place.

      Thanks for reading!

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  5. That’s a tough one. I think it’s something you develop over time. At first I rushed to change everything in the quest to make it better. But then I started to slow down and take each suggestion and mull it over. Usually there are the ones that I immediately agree with. Those are easy to implement. The ones I am most opposed to either are brilliant or not for the story I want to tell. I usually try it and if I feel like it harms my voice or isn’t right for my story, I revert to the original.

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    • That’s a great piece of advice, Kourtney. Cooling off/Giving things time was a lesson hard learned, for me. (I’m still learning it, actually.)

      Thanks!

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