Voice. It’s been on my mind since I started Intermediate Writing this semester. It’s the free, sarcastic tone I take in this blog, the tone I still can’t quite infuse into my journalism. But I’m working on it. And the stories I’ll publish in a couple weeks are my best examples of it so far.
Voice was the topic of class this week, and my takeaway was that it’s not something you can happen into over night. “You know it when you see it, you know it when you hear it, and you stumble into it when you write it,” my teacher/editor, Jacqui, said.
Here’s what voice isn’t:
- Using big or little words
Voice, ultimately, is what happens once you master your craft, or at least begin to master it. Once you’ve internalized the skills necessary to be a competent writer and journalist, it’s easy to lose your voice when focusing so intensely on craft skills. I feel like this is the stage I’m at. I’m learning so much about writing and reporting that I can hardly figure out my own take on it in the midst of the opinions of so many excellent writers and journalists. We will, Jacqui assured us, gain our voices back in time.
That said, during our last round of edits for my field stories, Jacqui asked me what I thought my voice was. Admittedly, I had a very hard time answering that question. I can quite articulate it. The best that I could offer was that I think I’m funny, so I usually try to play that up and include sarcasm. I have a wry kind of wit, if I do say so myself, and I think I turn to that because I’ve heard those kinds of sentiments my whole life.
My father is a teacher, and a well-liked one at that, so I could count on any combination or iteration of these statements when visiting him at a speech tournament or school play: “Your dad is so funny!” “He’s a riot, is he this funny at home?” “Mr. C. is so cool, he’s always cracking jokes at practice,” and so on and so forth. His sense of humor is a mix of wit, slight self-deprecation, well-timed comments and sheer performance. The older I get, the more I hear his humor in my voice, both on paper and in person.
My mother is sharp and passionate. She was the one who’d always take on unreasonable teachers who accused my sister and me of asking too many questions, and similar instances of injustice. Those of you familiar with my caustic remarks and shrewd rebuttals in arguments would be able to see them mirrored in her own behavior.
So I guess you could say I inherited my voice from my parents. I’m still trying to get it to match up with the voice I have when doing journalism. During our meeting, Jacqui gave me some insight into what she thinks my voice is, or at least how I portray it in my writing.
She says I’m precise and very explanatory, even to the point of over-explaining. I don’t use very many metaphors or similes, and my voice sounds educated with high-level language. I write cogently with many prepositional phrases.
I can’t say I was very surprised to hear her summary. My dad is a teacher, my mom was one, and both my parents are educated and have a deep appreciation for literature. I read all the time and have ever since I learned how before kindergarten. None of Jacqui’s comments are inherently bad or good, either. She said it’s just a matter of understanding when those traits add positively to my writing and when they are negative.
Last semester was easily my best reporting semester; I talked to so many people and made sense out of a hugely complicated issue. This semester is easily my best writing semester. I’ve paid more attention to how I write and why I write that way than I ever have before. I’ve learned so much, but more importantly, I’ve learned the skills to make sure I can keep improving long after this class.
If any of you Mizzou j-schoolers reading this are looking for a challenging but completely worthwhile elective for next spring, take Intermediate Writing. This Tuesday is my last class and I’m sad to see it go.
Look for my culminating stories in the Missourian during the second week of May.
Until then, cheers, and Happy Writing!