Friday, October 18, 2013

Let’s Talk Writing IV


Create your own (sic) style... let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others. 
Orson Welles

For Session1: A Skillful Understanding link here.
For Session 2: Playing the Lead : Your Role as a Writer link here.
For Sesson 3 : Finding Your Voice link here.

“Find your voice! Find your style!” In Let’s Talk Writing III, I discussed finding your voice, yet take any writing workshop and the instructor is bound to encourage you to find both your voice and your style; the instructor will throw around voice and style as if they are two separate things, yet one and the same. It can certainly get confusing! And is it important to even understand the difference or can we just lump voice and style into one single entity and idea?

Let’s define and try and understand the difference. As defined by several dictionaries:

VOICE is an instrument of expression; a sound produced or the ability to produce those sounds.

STYLE is a distinctive manner of expression; a particular way in which something is done, created or performed.

In writing, this basically means that VOICE is the instrument, what is uttered, the choice of words and language used, the method of speaking. Think of the difference in voice between an 8 year-old boy and an 80 year-old women, the language and vocabulary they each use to express themselves. It is how you sound on the page. Or how your characters sound.

STYLE, on the other hand, concerns more the mechanics of writing and the overall effect of the piece, how you as a writer, no matter the voice or the language used, organizes and tells the story. Do you use long, complex sentences and paragraphs, very ornate and romantic, packed with metaphors and colorful imagery? Or do you tell a story much more straightforward using short, simple, concise sentences, sparse prose, more journalistic than storyteller? How does the story (or the post) flow, how do ideas connect? Style has to do with flow, rhythm, whether you use repetition, whether you write with a sense of humor or not, the overall tone, etc. STYLE is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the characteristic manner of literary expression of a particular writer.

So, where does this leave you and what does it mean? And does one choose one’s voice and style, are these static or can they be altered or manipulated? Does a writer want to hang on to that voice and style one has developed, created, or be more flexible?

I know for a fact that I have my own voice and a particular style both. I use big words, lots of adjectives and adverbs. I use repetition and long sentences in order to create a certain rhythm to my writing, to my paragraphs, to accentuate certain things. I don’t just tell a story or describe a thing or a person, I attempt to create an overall “musical” effect and a particular mood to the work as a whole. My speaking voice – the language and the words I use and how I say them – is repeated and comes through in my writing voice, yet done very consciously and very conscientiously. My writing style, not necessarily how I tell a story aloud, is specifically thought out and chosen to create a certain effect.

Style is a simple way of saying complicated things 
Jean Cocteau 

Creating one’s distinctive, personal voice and style is then a two step affair:

1) choose your language, your vocabulary carefully. Do you say - my son walked into the room and sat down or my son slunk into the room and slumped into the chair? - is your eggplant purple, shiny and curved or garnet-hued, glistening and voluptuous? - if writing a story or an interview, does the language and vocabulary you choose change with each character or person? When writing different blog posts or articles, does your language change depending upon the topic or the platform?

2) choose the way you tell the story, organize the story, the steps, the paragraphs. When you go back to edit, read the story out loud and listen to the flow, the musicality, the length of sentences. Read other people’s work aloud…. What is the effect the piece and the way the story is told has on you? Separate the words used from the overall effect.

Now, is voice and style set in stone? Think about the difference your approach would be in writing a blog post, a personal story or a feature article for Saveur magazine, The New York Times or Family Circle. Or think about telling a certain story or giving certain information on a given topic to a group of friends, a group of children or a group of work colleagues at a conference presentation. Would you change or alter your voice? Your style? Is the language you use too simple or too complicated for one or the other? Or is the way you have told the story too complicated, drawn out, too convoluted (confusing, elaborate, tangled) or too simple and straightforward, not exciting enough? Is it too funny, too romantic, too morose and gloomy? Too light and flippant or too heavy and serious? When one thinks in those terms – of writing for a different platform or speaking to a different group, for example, then you can more clearly separate the two ideas and see them more clearly, understand them as separate entities.

Sometimes you may have to, by necessity, keep your voice yet change your style (or vice versa) if, for example, you are writing for a different platform or a different audience. I rarely change my voice when I write yet I do change my style of writing when it is for publication in or on another platform than my blog, for example: changing the way I enter into a story, writing shorter sentences with less descriptive adjectives, etc. When I edit a piece for another writer, I am forced to change both my voice and my style, so it is imperative that I understand my own in order to understand how to change it.

Style is an expression of individualism mixed with charisma. 
John Fairchild 

When we speak of FINDING your voice and your style, the word finding suggests an active search, an active effort. As I told you in Let’s Talk Writing III, you can (and often should) manipulate your speaking voice and style when putting it down on paper, yet the two must work together as each reflect who you are and your personality. Finding both a voice and a style that is recognizable as you, that is distinctively you, takes time and thought. And practice.

Start the process by reading and comparing other people’s writing. When you hop from blog to blog, read the different posts carefully, look for the language each writer uses and then how they tell the story or give information. Compare it to other writers and bloggers. Do the same for different magazines. And start to see the difference in voice and style, yet how the two work together to create an overall effect.

And then think about your own voice and style.

Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn. 
Gore Vidal 

Here is a selection of blogs and blog posts to read and study for the writing (voice and style) – these blogs have a variety of purposes and goals, each have a written text for a specific purpose, whether to tell a story, to inform or both. Read carefully, notice the language used, the vocabulary chosen, the sentence and paragraph structure. Look for tone, rhythm and mood. Notice the voice and the style, think about each separately and then how they work together:

Michael Olivier
Eggs on the Roof
The David Blahg (Leite’s Culinaria)
Cook Sister
Not Quite Nigella
Hungry Rabbit
The Perfect Pantry


Monica Bhide said...


Brooks Walker said...

Excellent writing examples for study, Jamie. I'm not only beginning to recognize your voice and style, but the cadence and representation of others' work. I know that if we were to meet in person, listening to you speak would ring a familiarity beyond acquaintance. All of the posts in this series resonate with me, and I thank you for writing them.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Not sure I get it all but that's part of it isn't it, it's a process not yet a point of arrival.
I do recognize I enjoy your voice and style.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

As usual, very interesting! I love both your voice and style.



Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said...

I'll never forget the day a good friend who's a marketing person said she liked my blog but she didn't love it because there was no me in there. That was back when I was afraid to be me because people would know I was old. :)

Finding your voice is like letting a bird out of its cage.

Sam Hoffer @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

Another great post Jamie and so much to learn. It is not easy to find your voice or style and is something we constantly need to work to achieve. I love the comment from Maureen above "Finding your voice is like letting a bird out of its cage."

Jamie said...

@Maureen and @Sam - I remember one of our Plate to Page participants who had decided to attend the workshop to improve her photo skills. She said she wouldn't write stories or really anything in her blog posts more than a lead in to the recipe because she was terrified that if she started every personal detail would spill out uncontrolled. She had no idea that she could actually control what she wrote and how she wrote it. She was thrilled when she learned that she could.

And Maureen, I for one am glad you are old :-)

Barb | Creative Culinary said...

Oh I forgot you borrowed that first photo of me for this post...yes, that is most definitely my style.

You had better be chuckling. :)

Nice piece. It's interesting for me to realize how many struggle with this part of blogging. I just say what I'm thinking and seldom plan ahead. It probably shows but hey, that's my true voice!

Rambling Tart said...

So good, Jamie. I like how you've broken nebulous ideas down into processable bits. In reading the comments of your readers I identify most with what Maureen said, how we find our voice when we aren't afraid to be ourselves. Fear always muzzles, doesn't it?

Elizabeth said...

I really like this idea to try changing the style for different platforms (I fear that I may be too lazy to do that actively...). I'm going to use the excuse that we already do this all the time when writing letters, with personal letters being quite different from business letters.

Thank you again for setting this all out so succinctly.

When I get around to it, I already know what my first exercise should be: to write a post in short sentences. No run-ons allowed. All with verbs. (Eeheeehehe)

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Thank you so much for including my blog in this segment of your series. I wish I were still teaching writing, for I would definitely make this group of posts required reading. It's been fun for those of us who have followed your blog to watch you grow into the writer you are today.

Jamie said...

@Lydia: I know that your purpose is not to write a story at all but to inform people, teach them something and get them cooking from scratch. Which is why I included you here - your words are thoughtful and you have a simple, straightforward, well-spoken way of getting your message across, exciting and inspiring the reader in a very homey way. It just works for what it is supposed to do.

@Rosa: I should have included you on this list but your blog will fit in another post. :-)

Helene Dsouza said...

I have been wanting to read your writing series since I saw them in triberr, but i never got around to do so.
So finally my feeling was right, style and voice are two different things. Well, you should have written this post 2 years ago dear Jamie. Just joking ;) I am off practicing more and hopefully I will feel inspired enough to use more descriptive adjectives. (btw I read somewhere once that one shouldn't use too many adjectives in the food writing, not sure why and that must have been in Dianne's book)


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