As requested by the luscious Lianne, here are my thoughts about what constitutes a Writer’s “Voice”.
Sometimes a writer will be praised for their craft by a Producer or Reader, yet they will assert that they wanted “more” from that script or selection of scripts; they will feel there’s that certain “something”, that je ne se quois, that vital ingredient “missing” somehow. Perhaps they will say that what’s there are the “bare bones” of a story, yet the feeling of the writer’s personality is missing. If this is the case then, there’s a good chance you need to develop your “voice” as a writer.
Yet just what is your “voice”? This is notoriously hard to nail down. What is someone’s “voice” to one, is perhaps not to another. Shane Black is an obvious example here. Some applaud his voice as bearing obvious talent, humour and a slick style. Others may call his scripts a mess that break all the supposed “rules”, which is ultimately annoying for them.
So, having a “voice” comes with drawbacks. It’s the thing that may win you friends, but also make you enemies. Yet, in my humble opinion, it’s far better to have a voice than not. Those writers who write very competent, very craft-laden scripts without a voice may be a television producer’s dream since a “house style” is more important here (though it’s important to note that TV Writers should and absolutely do have their own voices too: the brilliant Sarah Phelps on Eastenders is an obvious example; her episodes are always apparent to me, even before her name comes up in the credits with those famous drum beats.) Yet, when making features, writers without a voice can become a nightmare. Can you imagine the British Film Industry having a “house style”? Yuk. What I like about Brit films is they take risks: they can be irreverent, political, horrifying, satirical, sometimes all at once… The list is endless.
What sets films apart then is not always premise, actors, or even the production team behind it sometimes. Often it’s the script, the voice behind it: what its theme, its message is – and most crucially why it’s being said. Alot of Bang2write Readers read James Moran’s blog as well I daresay and this is a writer in my opinion with a very clear voice. He’s very vociferous on his blog, not only about his love of computers and computer-related items, Torchwood (and everything I would call “geeky”: love you really James, MWAH!), but also his disdain of people who believe in social status and represent a false image to the world of who they are and their own sense of grandeur or self-importance. As he says, the idea for SEVERANCE came when he “wanted to kill some yuppies.” So he did. Metaphorically of course, but as Aristotle was keen to point out: this writing lark is often cathartic! Also a point borrowed by a crime novelist I read whose name I forget, but who said in her book intro that she stayed awake every night thinking about how much she wanted to kill her then-husband, but knew she’d muck it up and get sent to prison, so wrote it into a book instead, made loads of money and divorced him. Revenge!
So, your voice is YOU. Why you write the stuff you do. Knowing WHY you want to write a particular story, knowing WHAT your particular concerns are and HOW you want to disseminate this information through your script/s is what will set you apart from the writers who are obsessed only with craft. When you get feedback that says something like, “This story has real heart“, “You have a clear interest in the story you are telling“, “I got a sense of you within the narrative” etc, for all the quips I make about such phrases, they do mean you have something, if not the perfect script: you have a voice. That’s something to be applauded, since it’s something often underrated.
TOMORROW: part 2 of this article, where I go into my thoughts about how a writer can develop his or her voice…