Voice? Voice.

I was never curious about the voice I use when writing until Ray posed the question in class. Since Tuesday afternoon, I’ve been poring over my previous works to isolate recurring themes, articulations, and elements. Despite extensive self-research, I’m not entirely convinced that I know exactly what my voice is. I can recognize it when I see it, but my description may not be perfectly clear. Please bear with me. Consider this a work in progress.

In terms of performance, I think that my written voice is merely a replication of my spoken voice. The only difference might be that the necessity of speed in speech means that I vary my vocabulary less in conversation. I write with the intention to come across as thoughtful (which, I suppose, could also be read as arrogance),  and approachable. I would want someone — any one of you — to feel like you could engage my written self in a conversation. I think that comes from reading material which was written by an author who clearly feels superior to his/her audience. I would never want my readers to think I was talking down to them. I think this is a trait I first noticed when reading Vonnegut’s work; since then I’ve yearned to emulate him in this manner.

I mentioned my lexical variance earlier, and that’s one of the most readily apparent formal markers of my writing. I have been a reader my entire life, mostly for the purpose of collecting all the pretty words I could find and cramming them into my brain. Variety is usually the process of what I suppose could be considered another formal marker, though it may be difficult to notice in a final draft: obsessive revision. No one gets their hands on a piece of mine until I’ve combed through it at least ten or so times. Each revision brings me closer to my ideal piece; as I pluck out certain words, replacing them with more flavorful language, my confidence in the text increases. Bit by bit, my writing gains legs of its own and begins to stand up for itself. That process is incredibly gratifying. Thirdly, semicolons are a favorite punctuation of mine. I’m not aware of any peers who use them consistently; there may be a good reason for this. Semicolons are often read as pretentious. Even Kurt Vonnegut, an author I idolize, once warned against their usage, claiming that semicolons “…are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” Well, fuck you, Kurt. I have been to college.

Despite my disagreement with Mr. Vonnegut concerning the use of semicolons, I emulate him in yet another capacity. Just as with Vonnegut’s books, my writing tends to revolve around sadness, isolation, regret, and a certain feeling akin to being the only SCUBA diver in a group without an air tank: crushing suffocation. (I actually do SCUBA dive, so I feel qualified to make that comparison.) The reason for visiting these themes so frequently — and I apologize if this is too real; we haven’t really gotten a chance to know one another — is that I have been experiencing major depression for the last twelve years or so. It’s so fucking easy to write about something that you’re intimately familiar with. I think my textual output contained the only overt references to my condition until just last year. Perhaps I was hoping someone might notice, or at least empathize just a little bit.

One might think that my subject matter limits the range of personality I can show through writing, but that would be a misjudgment. It may the case that when I first started writing with the intention of being good at it, I was often flat and monotoned. However, in dealing with a lugubrious attitude for years on end, I’d like to think I developed a sense of dry humor towards it. Sarcasm, dry wit, and cynicism are the hallmarks of my interaction with others. As such, my writing tends to follow suit. I tend to be vulgar when the circumstance allows for it, which may be a reflection of my love for either hiphop or Tarantino films.

As you can see, my voice is a synthesis of everything I’ve absorbed from the media I’ve consumed over the course of my life. Of course, I’ve mentioned a select few sources of my traits, but I’d like to expound upon this idea a little more here. My father is the one who contributed most heavily to my love of language. Before I could read, he would come home from work each night and regale me with the classics. Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and many more were on the literary menu in my early days. 20,000 Leagues in particular was responsible for my enthrallment with the ability to describe a scene. The meticulous passage in which a Nautilus crew member is laid to rest in a coral reef at the edge of a kelp forest captivated me then, and still does today. I have since desired to be able to insert a reader so viscerally into a scene as Verne did to me that day. I always thought that collecting all the best words would be the easiest way to make myself capable of that.

Around the age of seven (my dad really couldn’t wait any longer) I was introduced to hiphop through Eminem’s classic albums The Marshall Mathers LP and The Slim Shady LP. My dad told me that as long as I didn’t repeat the words I heard (at least not within earshot of my mother) I would be okay. Even so, the allure of vulgarity was too great for me to resist. There’s something to be said for the weight a single “fuck” can lend to a phrase.

Finally (for the sake of relative brevity), I owe a large part of my voice to the works of Kurt Vonnegut. His writing is not flowery, nor is it especially complex, but it certainly is beautiful to me. Vonnegut relayed concepts such as indifference and malcontent in such a simple way that every paragraph left me mouthing

Me too.

Vonnegut was the man who gave me the inspiration to pursue relatability. He showed me that sometimes it’s best not to obfuscate what you’re trying to say behind turns of phrase.

There you have it; here I am. I am a student of Verne, Mathers, Vonnegut, and countless others. I am sometimes (often) sad. I am a word collector. I became what I am without any real say in the matter; I was raised to be this way.

Genre & Form

Genre vs. Form

Would you call Game of Thrones a Western? Is Fallout 3 a Western? The answer to those questions really only relies on whether you consider a “Western” piece of media a form or a genre. In order to understand what you actually believe, it’s important to consider the fundamental difference between genre and form. I posit that genre speaks to intangible characteristics contained in a piece of media, while form is more about the physical components of a piece of media, within and on the surface.

The concept of a Western has been studied to death, revealing the following. Some recurring themes in Westerns are the concept of personal justice rather than institutionalized law, moral ambiguity, and codes of honor. I believe these are the sorts of traits that inform us of genre. Taking these abstract traits at face value, it can be easy to interpret Game of Thrones as a Western. One never really knows whether or not they feel comfortable identifying with Jamie Lannister because it’s almost impossible to decipher if his actions are moral or not. Justice is decided by the blade; the survivor is the just. The knights of Westeros cling to their honor above their own lives.

So, if abstract concepts such as those listed above qualify genre, form appears to be the case one pours elements into in order to hold them in place. This includes length of a piece as well as the structure of lines and paragraphs, but also iconography such as (in the case of Westerns) weapons, alcohol, glaring sunlight, and desolation. By this measure, one could easily categorize Fallout 3 as a Western, even though it is debatably more of a science-fiction piece of media. Fallout 3 contains all of the iconography I listed previously, and the plot is structured in a way that does not deviate from typical Western plot conventions too much. However, no one familiar with the game would call it a Western, although it is contained in a Western-style form.

In the end, genre and form complement one another, but do not always coincide. It is perfectly possible to create a piece in a Western form that also does not contain any elements typically found in a Western. Likewise, it’s equally possible to create a Western piece (thematically) that does not share any visual characteristics with other Westerns. Finally, while I believe that the categories of form and genre are useful in delineating media, I also believe that one should not pay too much attention to such labels. Intensive labelling is useful only to a certain point, beyond which it becomes burdensome. There’s no need to shove everything into a neat little box.