I find accents or linguistics very fascinating, even though I’ve been told I don’t have one myself. I attribute that to my upbringing as a military brat and the fact that I traveled all over the US during my formative speech years. I’m sure somebody from outside the US, South Africa or China for example, would beg to differ. Most people consider an accent a characteristic of pronunciation peculiar to a particular individual’s location, or nation, but it can also be tied to the socio-economic status of its speakers, or their ethnicity. Although accents typically differ in quality of voice, pronunciation of vowels and consonants, stress, and prosody, the selection of grammar, semantics, vocabulary, and other language characteristics often vary concurrently with accent. The word 'accent' refers specifically to the differences in pronunciation, whereas the word 'dialect' encompasses the broader set of linguistic differences.
What I find interesting is how certain accents tend to inherently imbue positive or negative characteristics on its user. For example, in my case an English accent can make somebody sound extremely intelligent (even though they could actually be thick as a rock) and a deep southern accent have the opposite effect. I realize that’s simply me projecting my own interpretations (and subconscious bias) on the accent user, but it got me thinking. It gets even more intriguing when word choice is thrown in. When someone describes a soft drink as a “pop”, I immediately associate northern US sensibilities to the speaker because everybody in the south knows a soft drink is a “coke” (regardless of its actual manufacturer). So I started to wonder, does our writing voice have an accent? I know there isn’t pronunciation involved in writing, but there is a cadence and rhythm to the flow of our words that can be perceived as a type of accent.
Here’s another problem I see, we as writers sometimes cannot hear our own voice just as we can’t recognize our own accent. Although we each strive to be unique, we still utilize a pattern of word choice and sentence structures absorbed via years of common education and experience. We struggle to pinpoint the quality that differentiates the way we write and need to be reminded of just how distinctive our voice is. One could argue that content is the great separator, but I’ve read plenty of authors where it didn’t matter what story they were telling, I enjoyed the way they conveyed it.
As a way of illustrating the differences in writer’s voice, I’ve solicited the help of six of our own blogging buddies. We’ve read their blogs over and over again, getting to know their voice, so why don’t we put it to the test. I’ve asked them all to write a paragraph (250 words max) around a single writing prompt and their responses are listed below. Let’s see if you can pick out which one belongs to which. However, a writer’s blog voice can be dramatically different than their story voice, making it more challenging to match up the piece to its author. My goal is to demonstrate how the subtle nuances between styles really make them stand apart, highlighting the voice, and working with fiction expands the canvas on which that is based. Nobody said it would be easy. :)
No, this isn't a contest...just some simple fun. Post your guesses in the comment section and I’ll let everybody know the real answers next week.
This was their writing prompt: Your character just moved to a new city/town and decides to throw a get-to-know-you party, but something goes terribly wrong. Describe what happened.
#1) How was I supposed to know the mayor was sleeping with someone other than his wife? This was not the impression I wanted to make. The feud that erupted in my background was not the let’s get to know each other vibe I’d planned. I scanned the room, hoping for the tiniest of smirks, showing me this disaster could be remedied. What I was left with was a glare from the mayor’s wife. I still wasn’t sure how this had become my fault. I wasn’t the one sleeping around! I’d invited his mistress because she was the event planner in the next town over. How could I know she wasn’t aware he was married! This god forsaken place shouldn’t have been so damn small. I wouldn’t have had to go to the next town to make sure this event went off without a hitch. Now I was stuck with a screwed up marriage, and every home owner in town looking at me as if I was the home wrecker. Could I get out of this? If I walked out now, could I call the realtor, put the house on the market and get the hell out? I needed to escape; no way would I be invited to the next barbeque. I’d made the hit list.
#2) I ran up the pier towards the flashing red and blue lights. Our new neighbors were backing away or scurrying up the beach—fleeing from the drama.
“Why are you handcuffing my boyfriend?” I shouted.
The meathead officer ignored me as he finished reading Treygan his rights. Officer J.Lo wannabe held up a joint. “Possession.” She nodded at the unzipped band around Treygan’s arm which revealed half a dozen more joints. “And distribution.”
“Uncuff him right now!” I demanded. “You can’t arrest him for smoking Cweed! There is nothing illegal about that.”
“Seaweed?” The lady cop sniffed the joint in her hand then held it under Officer Meathead’s nose who smelled it and shrugged. “Why in the world would you smoke seaweed?”
“Why in the worlds wouldn’t you?” Treygan quipped. He winked at her then held up his handcuffs to be unlocked. “Don’t worry. I won’t press charges.”
After all the questions and formalities were finished Treygan wrapped his arm around me. “Nice meeting you officers, but we need to get back to our guests.”
Kicking up sand, we headed toward the house. Treygan placed a fresh joint between his lips while I flipped open my lighter.
From behind us Officer J.Lo said, “We’ll be keeping an eye on you two.”
Treygan blew a ring of silver smoke above our heads and smiled as he glanced over his shoulder. “I don’t blame you. We are extraordinary.”
The joyful atmosphere dissolved into panic. Guests stumbled over one another in an attempt to reach the safety of the house. Cups flew and lawn chairs tumbled out of the way.
Dan held the door for stragglers. The last guest bolted inside, still clutching his beer, and Dan slammed the door. His hands shook as he secured the lock. The cries of his neighbors, loud in the empty kitchen, beat on his eardrums.
“Where is it?” someone shrieked.
Pressing his forehead against the glass, Dan scanned the backyard. No one mentioned bears, he thought, his breath fogging the pane. I didn’t leave my high-rise apartment to be chased by bears!
“He’s out front!”
Dan spun away from the window. He shoved past the others, taking advantage of lack of obstacles. Of course, had his belongings arrived on time, the party would’ve been indoors, thus eliminating the bear threat.
“What’s he doing?” a woman demanded.
A car alarm sounded as Dan reached the picture window. Several cars resided in the driveway, but his attention shifted to the red convertible closest to the house. The red paint glistened in the moonlight and the chrome wheels reflected the porch lights. Its pristine condition and sleek body had turned many heads since its arrival.
Apparently, the leather seats and comfortable interior were too inviting. The bear had crawled inside, wedged himself behind the wheel, and was now happily chewing on the headrest. Dan heard a gasp in his ear.
“Dude, that’s your car…”
#4) Patricia at the office had warned me it was a bad idea but wouldn’t say why.
Sure, my new colleagues look normal from outside but I’ll bet if Patricia and I had had more time to talk over lunch break she would've totally told me about Sally McGreggor’s need to bring her two long-haired Chihuahuas everywhere she goes. Then I wouldn’t have been so surprised to see them eating from my fine china at the dinner table last night.
And I’m sure if good ole’ Patty could have caught me at the copier, she’d have warned me that Carl prefers to be called ‘Carlita’ during off hours. And would appear at my doorstep in high heels and a bustier with a muscled date named ‘Ruby’ who likes to be dragged around by a spiked dog collar and a leash.
Yes. If Patty had just had more time, she could have let me know that Britney, the young receptionist, isn’t just newly engaged, but also likes to pop ecstasy before her evenings out and will therefore spend an hour and a half going to second base with her boyfriend on my newly-refurnished couch.
Or that sweet old Mrs. Jenkins is a closet klepto who took off with three sets of silver knives.
As it turns out, I’m working with a bunch of freaking psychopaths.
I smile Patty’s way and hand her the coffee I’ve just mixed full of laxatives.
They have no idea who they’re dealing with.
#5) Two weeks after moving to the small town, her husband got the idea—a dinner for their neighbours. Jayne grew up in a city, where people didn’t know who lived beside them unless they were child molesters, but she went along. What a mistake that was. Jayne had invited four people and somehow eight were already in her living room.
‘Jayne, you look so young,’ Francis Morton, her neighbour across the street said. ‘Almost like a little girl. I sell Avon, you know, and have some products that will fit your skin tone nicely. You don’t use a lot of make-up, do you?’
‘No. I don’t like—‘
‘Well, we can change that,’ she replied and grabbed Jayne’s hand. ‘Look at your skin, it’s so dry. I have some moisturizer in my bag, Edgar fetch me my bag, we’ll have this problem cleared up immediately. Sit!’
Francis pushed Jayne down on sofa.
‘I’m fine, thank you.’
‘Ridiculous.’ Francis grabbed a bottle from husband’s hand. ‘I'll just get a large glob out. There we go. Can’t get too much moisture, can one? I bet you can feel the moisture rising up your veins as we speak.’
‘I feel something rising.’
‘See…oops, got some in your hair there. Edgar! Edgar! Get me a towel! Hurry man! Men, they never understand these things, do they? My dear, the colour of your face is all wrong—it’s red. Do you know what you need? A makeover!’
‘No, but thank you. I should see to—’
#6) I’m not sure if it’s a mole or a giant never-go-away zit. But it’s ugly and a little furry. And when Cindy and her mole-zit are safely tucked into the bathroom stall, it monopolizes everyone’s attention, okay mostly Marjorie’s. Marjorie says the thing is gigantic and generates its own gravitational pull. Of course I don’t laugh—since mama’s dead, I’m hostess by virtue of being the oldest and responsible for the outcome of the party. But I don’t not laugh. That is to say, Would you like more punch? accompanied by the sweetest of lip biting grins and maybe a wink goes a long way towards maintaining the peace at these things. And, really, isn’t that the most important thing? It’s not as if Marjorie means any real harm anyway. She’s stupid, you know. Probably been dying to say that line since she heard it on Mean Girls.* It is rather priceless, if not original.
Mama never liked my friend Marjorie much, but then, she didn’t have a clue when it came to her own friends either. She always preferred the homely ones with mini vans and Keds, as if God had let us win the lottery so we could keep living like indigenous people. Or indigents. Indigest? Whatever. Mama had no taste. Poor Cindy is so much like our Mama, too, all make-up-less and fanny pack obsessed. She really doesn’t stand a chance. At least Mama was already married and could be a loser. But what’s Cindy got? She’s tucked away in the bathroom stall at her own Mama’s funeral, hiding a big mole-zit on her face. Sad, really.
*I have no idea if this line is actually on Mean Girls. Probably not.
And here is the talent behind each of the pieces (listed in alphabetical order). I want to thank each of them from the bottom of my heart for taking time out of their busy schedules to contribute a piece of themselves. Simply (or maybe not so simply) match the number with the appropriate letter.
A. Alex J. Cavanaugh
B. Jen Daiker at Unedited
C. Clarrisa Draper
D. Karen Amanda Hooper at Eternal Moonshine of a Daydreaming Mind
E. Carolina Valdez Miller
F. Katie Mills aka The Creepy Query Girl
Have fun! :)
- Continually trying to answer the question...can a man of few words write a successful novel?
I'm a Mystery/Thriller/Suspense writer from small town USA who struggles everyday to balance my passion for prose against the need to be a full-time bread winner. Finding ways to devote more time to my writing is the challenge, but for now all I can do is follow this tug at my heart to wherever it leads. I'm here primarily to soak up all the knowledge I can from the writing-centric blogosphere, but I'll do my best to contribute by thinking of new and innovative ways to churn the writing pot.