Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On "voice"

I was going to post a comment on the hatchet job Vanity Fair did on the transcript of Sarah Palin's speech, but it got longer and longer and finally I decided I'd better move it here, so as not to be obnoxious.

Clearly, the article was meant to appeal to their (shrinking) liberal reader base so their readers could feel superior to her. That's annoying enough. What really got to me, though, is how they proudly removed all individualism and "voice" from her speech, making it plain vanilla, and then acted like that was an improvement.

For one thing, a speech is not an article, and I have a suspicion magazine editors should be kept far away from speechwriting. The goal in writing is to "write tight" -- eliminating extraneous words and phrases that don't add to the meaning. Read an article out loud. Sounds a little dry, right? Humans use LOTS of extraneous words when speaking. Most are just to fill space while our brain catches up to our mouth. Regardless, that is what we are used to hearing. A speech without a certain amount of verbal white space sounds sparse and robotic. It sounds like a speech.

I have edited for friends (not professionally) and when I did, I confronted the issue of voice. "Voice" is what you hear when you read. It is the individual word, phrase, and pacing choices that make my writing "sound" very different from yours. Good "voice" often includes bad grammar. (In my fiction, I tend to use fragments to create a choppy effect) Editing is an art. How do you tighten and strengthen a passage, while leaving the voice of the writer intact? Should you correct a grammatical error, or does it add to the mood of the scene?

The editors at Vanity Fair, beyond their partisan attempt to smear a talented politician, simply did a VERY BAD EDITING JOB. They stripped out word choices and phrases that reflected her "voice". They altered the meaning of at least one sentence. They crossed out introductory remarks for no reason (this is a speech, after all). They stripped out all individuality until their edited version was as dry as your average encyclopedia entry. And then they congratulated each other.


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