Thursday, April 21, 2011

Speakin' the Lingo

A funny thing happens when you're a middle school teacher.  No matter how old you get, you always seem to know the current slang.  You can't help it because it's everywhere, everyday.

Today I heard a term I'd never heard before, but it rolled off the kids' tongues like a loose grape, and my vocabulary was expanded.  The term is Screamo and refers to a type of music.  Turns out though, I just hadn't been hanging with the "wrong" crowds because Screamo has been around since the 1990's.  It's described as using "typical rock instrumentation, but is notable for its brief compositions, chaotic execution, and screaming vocals. It has been described, by music journalist Jason Heller, as 'graft[ing] spastic intensity to wilfully experimental dissonance and dynamics,' indicating a kinship with noise rock."

So what does all this have to do with the price of gas?  Absolutely nothing (and don't get me started on the price of gas), but it does bring to mind an important aspect of writing--voice.  See, music is a great place to begin to understand how voice works in writing, and how writers develop their own distinctive voices.  I don't know if I'd start with Screamo necessarily, but whatever works, right?

For a class assignment a few years ago, I had my students listen to different artists singing the same song.  Believe it or not, there are quite a few renditions of Billie Jean (first introduced my the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson).  And by listening to the other versions, I was able for the first time to begin to grasp the idea of voice in writing.  You see, Michael Jackson has a very distinctive singing style that is different from a version of Billie Jean sung by Chris Cornell, former lead singer of Soundgarden, which is different from a version sung by Tony Bennett (Yes, that Tony Bennett).  Obviously, many things about the songs are the same, but you would never mistake who was singing a particular version because their voices and styles are so distinct.  You can find versions of all three on

So, the next time you're trying to stay true to your own voice, don't worry about whether or not you've got the correct lingo, just know that you have a distinctive way to say things, and that's okay.  Will everybody like your voice?  Afraid not, but if you create a distinctive enough style, those that do will hopefully crave it again and again.

Have you figured out your writing voice yet?  It's an ever evolving process for me, but I can see a huge difference between my early work and my short story, Into the Fire.  And, maybe an occasional middle school slang word or phrase might slip in, but only when the scene would be ruined without a loud, screaming, emotional (Screamo) kinda vibe.

Happy Writing!

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