What separates one author’s writing from another? The short answer is the author’s voice, comprised of their style and use of language. This lesson explores the concepts in more detail.
More than Just Words
When an author writes, it is not just the words that have meaning. Instead, it is also how those words are stitched together to create a coherent work. After all, every author has a unique voice, or way of writing, that in turn affects the way with which their style is rendered.
Remember that style refers to how an author writes. When you read a text, do you imagine someone highly educated reading it to you? Or perhaps you imagine someone a little less refined. In either case, this is because the author intended for the text to be read with a particular voice. Voice, on the other hand, is how everything comes together with a writer to make his or her work unique. So how do we figure out what the author wants us to know about style and voice? Luckily, we’ve got some clues to help us.
First, let’s make sure that this definition of style is completely understood. The best way of doing that is through looking at writing that has contrasting styles. To focus more on meaning, we’ll look at this through warnings.
Take, for example, this warning: ‘You should stay away from the dog’. It is considered to be informal because it directly addresses the reader, but also uses a rather simple language.In fact, many of the words are drawn from Anglo-Saxon roots, whereas more formal language tends to draw words from Latin or French, often called Latinate. How about this warning: ‘Avoid the canine’. It is much shorter, but it is much more formal.
It is just assumed that ‘you’ know that the sign is for you, and it uses more elevated language. Specifically, it uses the word ‘canine’ instead of dog. Therefore, a great way to keep an eye out for the author’s style is to see if he or she uses more sophisticated words.
The style is easily mimicked, but what about voice? This is a bit harder. Voice, after all, refers to the overall way that a specific writer produces work. When you read a book by Mark Twain, you can almost hear an older gentleman with a deep drawl telling you the story. That’s voice.
Let’s put it like this. Whereas style may describe the particular style of clothing someone wears, voice describes that person’s personality. So how can we tell a writer’s voice?Simple – by looking at many of the same clues given to us for style. Again, the way that they use language is important here, but it goes deeper. Does the author favor a very complex way of speaking, using compound-complex sentences with abandon and intricately weaving context clues for what is to come? Or is a simpler approach preferred? Maybe clues about the author’s voice can be found in details as small as their preferred conjunctions? In any event, while style can often be described in a much broader way, voice involves closely examining language.Let’s go back to thinking about how Mark Twain writes.
You get the idea that you’re sitting at a grandfather’s knee as he tells you stories from his youth. His style is informal as he tells hilarious stories. His language is distinctive because he uses language that is clearly southern. His voice is quaint, gentlemanly, descriptive, and funny.Now, compare Mark Twain’s style, language, and voice with the owner’s manual for your refrigerator. That is much more formal in nature, with a voice that sounds like it could be a machine.
The language is mostly comprised of jargon that is unique to the technical aspects of a refrigerator. Surely few people read refrigerator manuals for fun.That doesn’t mean that the best type of voice is necessarily an informal one. Take Tom Clancy, for example. His books sell millions of copies, and if the intrigue of statecraft and espionage are your thing, then chances are you’ve read some of his work. However, they don’t read like a Mark Twain story.
In fact, they are almost sterile, describing just the facts and letting you conclude what must be going through the character’s minds. That’s what makes them great fun to read. They are no less entertaining than the informal works of Mark Twain but are decidedly more formal.
In this lesson, we looked at how to analyze the language that an author uses in order to better understand their style and voice. Remember that style is the broad way in which an author writes, while voice refers to the specificities that make that author’s writing stand out. Often, you’ll have to look into word origins, sentence structure, and context clues to fully understand the author’s voice, but a simple read-through will give you most of the information necessary to pinpoint style.