Song of Solomon

Lesson 98 Chapter 3 Module 9

Voice is an interesting writing beast.

As a writer, I often want to hold fiercely to the words I’ve chosen and the tone I’m using to tell the story. They are mine, and if someone wants to read what I’ve published, why wouldn’t they be showing up for what I’ve determined are my best thoughts and statements? 

Setting aside the whole premise of writing for an audience, this is something that will come up if you are writing anything more than opinion pieces and essays.

If you are writing for another publication or website, you will likely have to adhere to their style guidelines.

If you are writing fiction, you’ll have to adopt the voice and tone of your characters, if you want them to be memorable for being their unique selves.

If you are writing nonfiction, perhaps for your brand or organization, you might choose to adjust your language choices and some messaging.

While yes, you want to write like you would speak, or like you would write to a friend, to find your core authentic writer’s voice, that doesn't mean you always get to write in that voice.


I say that in big screaming caps locks because I also spend a lot of time editing.

As a writer first, and an editor secondarily, I’m pretty fiercely dedicated to preserving a writer’s voice and choices. But I have client style guidelines to follow. I have the reader to consider (if the author hasn’t done the best job of that.) I am trying to help the writer make their own words even better.

Which means that sometimes, things get changed.

Then writers get angry and hurt, spewing frustrations into email and social media about how an editor has “stripped out their voice.”

But here’s the thing...if you are writing for the truth, with a solid foundation in understanding of your subject and message, changing the words around doesn’t strip out your voice.

Your voice will always be your voice. The tone might change, the style might need to adjust, but the voice will always be yours.

In today’s excerpt, the author takes a huge chance in doing just this.

Toni Morrison is easily one of the most lauded and respected Black authors in modern literature. Her novels tend to poetically unfold the depths of her heritage and culture in a way that had not been explored as beautifully and openly before.

Mostly about African-American women, and their experiences in their communities, they have left an impact that garnered Morrison a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

But today’s excerpt is from one of her most commended novels, about a young black man in 1960’s Michigan (most people assume it is based in Detroit, though that is never stated.)

Now, while Morrison has likely known a number of young black men in her lifetime, from being a woman in that community who made friends and had peers and acquaintances, she is herself not a young black man.

But the main character’s perspective and voice were written so well and thoroughly that former President Barack Obama has on multiple occasions said that this might be the book that has most affected his life.

Obviously, she has managed to write an entire novel that tells the story of a person in a life that she has no first-hand experience.

You’ll likely find yourself in this same position time and again after you finish the course.

There is little doubt that Song of Solomon is a work of Morrison’s, as her own style and voice repeat flow throughout. But the tone and language and some of the characters’ voice nuances, those are all created adjacently to her own.

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