Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
jaylake

Moving the discussion from writing-to-market to auctorial voice

In response to my recent post about writing to markets, rosefox said:

I've occasionally thought that maybe I'm very weird in this... chameleonic approach, mostly because I don't do it for the sole purpose of marketability. It would be interesting to know whether this sense of auctorial manners, and joy in ranging far and abroad and adapting to whatever I find, is more common than I expect.

Which led to me reflect on my auctorial voice thusly.

I'm pretty much an auctorial chameleon. There's a certain kind of story that some people seem to think of as a "Jay Lake story", for example, "A Hero for the Dark Towns", or "The Soul Bottles". That's my baroque, decadent fantasy voice, where my word fetish really comes into play. Rather badly overstyled for many readers' tastes, but frankly, it's my favorite stuff to read and to write. On the other hand, I have a skiffy voice, a Southern gothic voice, a contemporary urban-lit voice, the "gosh-wow" voice of Rocket Science, etc. etc. etc.

None of those are market-driven voices. Rather, as you put it, they're for the "joy in ranging far and abroad."

At the same time, underneath I have an axis of themes and issues, tropes and structures, which I find myself returning to, and of which I have become increasingly conscious. So there's the voice-beneath-the-voice, a contrast, perhaps, between surface style and underlying story architecture. That v-b-t-v is rather more consistent for me than my wide-ranging surface style.

To that point, I recently sold a story ("Lehr, Rex") where I was adopting a deliberate and highly mannered surface style, echoing 40s/50s SF, which was absolutely artificial for me. I was conscious the whole time that I probably would have written the story in a very different voice if I weren't writing for a market that had asked me for a 40s/50s sort of story. It also took me almost two weeks to write 8K words, which normally I could do in one or two days -- because I was struggling against both the story's natural voice and my own natural voice to produce it in this style register. At the same time, now that I'm done, I'm rather proud of it. I think it's a pretty good story.

So that's one example where writing to a market enhanced rather than retarded my auctorial voice.

[ original comment text here ]

What's interesting to me about my response is that it had never occurred to me to think about the two levels of auctorial voice until just now. Surface style, which is often referred to as "voice" in critique, criticism and casual discussion, is something that's always been on my mind. But the "the voice-beneath-the-voice" is a new idea for me. Especially since I've never come up with a decent definition of "voice" in the first place, beyond a sort of Potter Stewart "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it" approach.

What the heck is "voice" anyway? Why do we care?

Shiny. Must turn over in my head a while.
Tags: writing
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