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Excerpts from Elizabeth Hand's 1997 Lecture
On Writing, Style, and Voice

copyright © 1997 Elizabeth Hand

On writing in general:

"Everybody always says to write what you know. Write what you know that nobody else knows. There is always something, no matter what it is, there is something that you know more about than anybody else on Earth. Because no matter how obscure or banal or whatever you may think it is. . . anything that describes a particular insular world is very interesting for the rest of us who do not live within that world--even if we visit it. Any kind of small world that you can detail all the little hierarchies and social nuances--the relationships between the people--that kind of stuff is great."

On the difference between style and voice:

"Voice, as I understand and as I use it, is almost literally a voice. You can hear the voice, it's the intonation and cadences of a character coming through within a book.

"Style is more the way you use the individual elements of language. It sounds trite and simplistic but it is something that is very difficult to do and something that, when it's done right, you can see how hard it is. Style is using adjectives, it's using adverbs, it's learning. . . to use active verbs.

"A lot of what makes style effective is on the one hand we recognize [what's being described] but on the other hand [it is] the shock of the new--something strange, something different. . . . You describe a peach as smelling a certain way, everybody knows what a peach smells like but you put a different adjective on it. The peach has a cool scent--not the word I necessarily would choose--but [the reader] thinks, Gee, I usually think of a peach as being something warm, and here is someone describing this cool scent. . . . Style is sense and also using your senses."

On how to cut. . . and paste:

"One really good word is almost always better than two or three weaker ones. [Say you] have a sentence where you have two great images, you think. . . 'the waves rushing on the beach with a sound like this, a sound like that!' And you read it over and you think, they're both so good, I want to keep them both and then you keep them there. Almost always that is a mistake. Almost always one of those images, one of those descriptive sentences or phrases is stronger than the other. What you have to do is learn which one is better and hack the other one off. You have to learn to recognize when you are subverting your own best intentions. And you can always save something for another book, another story. People do that all the time. . . . It's allowed."

Thanks for dropping by!...

Except where noted, Content © 1996 - 2019 Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust
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Updated Nov 30, 2002
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