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Voice to avoid 'writing tip'

Style (tip 5)

"Writing in an engaging voice is sometimes difficult for the timid. Not ready to dance naked on the stage before the world, these bashful souls can write only in a safe, sane third-person neutral. But even they have another option. They can bring in voices clearly not their own by quoting other people, puppets whom they manipulate for their own purposes. Bringing in such voices in dialogue adds zest to what might otherwise be a monotonous monologue and allows the writer to display some colorful writing without the danger of personal ridicule. After all, the other guy said it, not you. Remember that each new voice gets its own paragraph. Thus, if you have two voices arguing, each new speaker begins a new indented line, even if each is simply shouting, "Yes, it is." "No, it isn't." "Yes, it is!""

"This alternative voice also provides a way to bring in counterarguments that question the main voice of the paper, always a crucial element of any successful essay. Think of the best authors you have read Harriet Beecher Stowe or Charles Dickens for example, and you will realize that much of their success is their ability to create a variety of different characters with wonderful dialogue."

Voices to Avoid

"Once you know the voice you want to pretend to be, another warning is in order. Some voices do not succeed as well as others. Without crushing your creativity, I need to point out the political dangers here. If you insist on using an obnoxious voice, do so in such a way that the voice clearly discredits itself. I emphasize "clearly." The mere fact that a voice is obviously, say, racist does not by itself show that the author understands it is objectionable. You would not believe some of the things I have had students write and mean. I am braced for anything, no matter how ugly or bizarre. If, on the other hand, you are a racist and want to risk it, at least argue your case with a modicum of common sense and logic, not with the kind of inflammatory and emotional nonsense usually associated with the Grand Fleegles of the KKK."

"Do not, I repeat, do not use sarcasm. That way destruction lies. Students, especially those who often use sarcasm in their daily discussions, find they cannot resist sarcastic quips and digs. But these rarely work. In fact, they often backfire. The reason is that sarcasm requires tone of voice to communicate its sarcastic intent. And any tone of voice you might imagine as you write your paper is in your head only and not in the words on the page or in the ears of the reader. You might write, "And of course everybody hates uppity women," intending the comment to be taken sarcastically, but the reader sees only the words on the page, and she may well not read them that way at all. What you hear in a sarcastic voice in your head might well come across as serious intent to an innocent, objective reader. Even Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal," an often anthologized example of successful irony in which he urges that abandoned babies be fed to the poor, was taken quite seriously by a horrified few. Communication is difficult enough these days without risking disaster. Most humor, especially satire, depends upon the assumption that your readers share your basic worldview and will therefore recognize a statement wholly outside of that worldview as funny. It is an unfortunate fact of modern American life that there is no longer, if there ever was, a generally accepted worldview. As Ted Danson can confirm, attempts to be funny don't always work. Avoid sarcasm. I always do. "

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