If you have ever read Cormac McCarthy you know what a writers voice is. Every single clipped sentence is blunt, stark, and brutal just like the subjects of his books.
We can all recognize a writer’s voice once we have a little familiarity. Just as we recognize people by their voice when we can’t see them.
But somehow, somewhere, someone got the words tone and voice confused. The subtle but significant difference between the two has been so obfuscated that I’m confused. So confused the I will probably use voice when I mean tone and tone when I mean voice at least once in this post.
Mostly it is a harmless error, like the difference between a Pedialyte and it’s generic knockoffs. Both of which will help a sick infant stay hydrated. But sometimes this confusion is not so harmless, like the difference between Pedialyte and Pediasure which is apparently a shake that helps toddlers get enough fiber. Sorry honey.
One not so harmless error between tone and voice happens way too often.
A lot of hot shot blogging experts advise newbies to “find their voice” and they are totally right in saying so. A voice that is fresh and different is an awesome thing to have.
But a lot of newbies take this to mean that they need to pick a tone and stick with it. Example: “I’m an upbeat happy blogger so my tone will always be butterflies, puppies, and fluffy hugs of joyness.”
WRONG-O. Never ever pick a tone and try to stick with it. Such a course of action will only end in misery, like giving extra fiber to a sick seven-month-old.
Just so that we are clear, never do this!
You Will Be Frustrated
Have you ever tried to write a happy story when you were sad? It is impossible. This is true with any tone of voice. If you are feeling thoughtful then it’s probably a bad time to write that snarky marketing post that you are planning.
(Oh. Snarky Marketing. That’s good. *checks domain availability* Dang it).
Readers Will Be Frustrated
First of all no one wants to hear the same tone all the time. It gets old. I love McCarthy, but if I somehow survived the apocalypse and had nothing but The Border Trilogy to read I would lose my mind. Probably quite literally, those are some depressing books.
Second, your writing will be disingenuous. NEWS FLASH >> Readers can tell when you are not sincere and they don’t like it.
Don’t try to sound smart. Readers can tell when you don’t really know what words mean and when they are out of place in your writing.
Don’t try to sound sarcastic. You will probably just offend a lot of people. Written satire is much harder to pull off then auditory.
Don’t try to sound humorous if you don’t think you are funny. You jokes will fall flat.
Don’t try to sound like anything!
Beyond The Tone
There is much more to a voice then just tone. If Cormac McCarthy ever decides to write a happy, sprawling, Victorian novel in the mode of Jane Austen, sure the characters might flounce around in pretty dresses and covet the same gentlemen, but even out of his traditional subject matter McCarthy would still be McCarthy.
This is because there is much more to a voice then just a tone. You can recognize e.e. cummings poems before you have even read a word just by the way that they look on the page.
Syntax, paragraph structure, grammar, word usage; all of these things add layers to the voice and take it beyond the realm of simple tone.
So don’t worry about people not recognizing you. If you usually write pensive calm posts don’t be afraid to rage-post if you are worked up about something. Most likely your readers will be saying to themselves, “Thank goodness we are not reading a robot.”;
Be Who You Are and Let Your Voice Find You
A writer’s voice is their personality. Part of it comes naturally but part of it also is a result of a lifetime of reading and writing experiences.
Just like a real personality, a writing voice is mercurial. At least the part that people see. Think of it this way. When you are mad you are still you. You are just the angry version of yourself. When you are sad your personality hasn’t changed, you are just showing a different side of it.
Don’t deprive yourself or your readers of the entire glorious thing that is you. Let them see every little facet.
Throw out your blogging tone and just start being yourself. People will love you for it.
Talk To Me
What has your experience with voice and tone been? Let me know in the comments.
Image credit: Flickr