Monday, March 2, 2009

Under the Influence

As a writer, does reading affect your 'voice'?

We all know what 'voice' is; it's that special something, that personal flare that you hope is unique and strong enough to carry your story. It's more than just your MC's voice-- it's the voice, the tone, the feeling of your writing.

Voice is that je ne sais quoi factor. Voice is something that isn't tangible; you can't see it, you can't touch it, you can't grab it-- but you want to channel it. You want your writing to have a voice that makes people want to read; a voice that amazes agents and makes publishers want to publish.

So my question is this: Do outside factors affect your voice? If you read a published book do you "pick up" on the author's voice and does it change your own writing style?

Do you even read a book hoping to be influenced by the prose? I suppose it doesn't even need to be a book that influences your voice- can you be affected by music or tv as well? Do you play certain music or shows to get into the desired mood/mindset? And does your voice change from story to story, or is it always the same?

I'm very curious to hear from others about this! I spend a lot of time analyzing my own voice, (writers are told over and over again how important a strong voice is) and I wonder how everyone else views this concept.


  1. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. To the point of it being thoroughly annoying. If I read a book that has a voice I don't like, I have to read a book that has a voice I do like to counter the unlikable voice I pick up from the first one. But I never know if I like the voice or not until a little way through the book, which makes the entire process extremely risky.

  2. It's simple. I just don't read when I'm writing or editing. Period. So that means I miss out on a lot of great stuff for long periods of time. Oh well!

    I listen to specific music to get in the mood for different character's voices, and my own voice, I guess.

    Great question! Basically, I am easily influenced by outside forces... and I read a lot of poetry to get me in the right voice sometimes. And lots of Annie Dillard for some reason...

  3. I figured out that I get influenced by strong writers. If I'm not impressed by a book, it rarely affects me. But, if the writer is amazing enough to make me rethink my own abilities, then I will temporarily sound like them whether I want to or not. It's like they have convinced me that their way to write is the best way. When I'm working on a story, I can't have too many different voices coming at me at once, so I will tend to keep a limited library of books for each story I write.

  4. I'm definitely affected by what I'm reading. If you were to look back at the first drafts of anything I wrote over long periods of time, you can see the different influences going in and out of the story.

    Personally, I don't mind it. I use the edits to make everything cohesive, and the fact that the voice alters slightly on the first draft gives me a better idea of what works and what doesn't.

  5. Yes indeed, big time.

    Which is why I am picky about what I read, why I "cleanse" my brain after reading certain things, why I don't write after watching TV... the list goes on.

    I think that one's unique voice is going to be there, it is intrinsic, but it can be molded differently.

    I am currently writing a short story collection and my biggest issue (besides finding the time) is changing the voice so that all the stories sound different.

    It can be hard.

  6. I think writers can easier be influenced by books they read, especially if the writing is fabulous. I've read interviews with authors who claim that their own voice developed as a little bit of a lot of influence. So my take on this is that we are developing writers, and our voices will likely develop as well.