For writers voice is not the physiological act of forcing air past vocal chords. Rather it is the tone of the story. It’s the narrator’s – whether a character’s own narration in first person or a third person narrative – way of telling the story. Some voice is very closely associated with the character (Nick Caraway in The Great Gatsby for example or Red in Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption), even a third person unnamed narrator (as in the narration of Gaiman’s Neverwhere). Some voice is terribly unique to the narrator. Norman Mailer gave voice to a demon as an omniscient narrator of a young boy Adolf Hitler’s life in Castle in the Forest. It is unique and distinctive. The narrator was all-knowing, but rarely interacted with the subjects in the story. Rather, his narration made him a bigger character than many others within the story.
Neil Gaiman and Diana Gabaldon and Dave Barry and Christopher Moore and John Sanford and Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Stephen King. All impeccably skilled at voice. Amazingly their voices in their books are unmistakably theirs, but also unique to each book.
That’s what I want to do. Mostly what I read of my own writing though sounds oh..I don’t know…exactly like me, maybe? *phooey!*
Agents and Editors ASK for “voice” whether they say “strong and distinctive voice”, or “fresh and clean voice” so we get to interpret that very vague intangible idea of voice and try to produce it.
As I edit my most recent manuscript, I am seeing what I’ve seen in my previous books. The voice of the book comes about in first draft, not in the first paragraph or first chapter, but somewhere in the middle, as I get to know my characters better I get a better feel for the movement and tone and, yes indeed, voice of it.
Editing, for me, is inserting “the voice” of the book where it was lacking in the first draft. It emerges halfway through the first draft and my job is to carry it into the parts of the story that don’t have it.
Giving a story a “fresh voice” is a challenge. Voice is a concept that’s a wicked little exercise in consistency of writing. Add fresh to it. What exactly does FRESH mean, anyway? A new feel, a new flow, something that doesn’t feel tired and “already done”?
So we write and a voice peeks out at us. It feels right, so we edit it into the rest of the story. Then we wonder… Is it too serious, too playful, to hurried? Does the narration carry the story? How does it feel ? Is it more than just a vehicle for carrying the story? Does it mesh form and function?
It’s one of the things, I’m realizing in this most recent edit, that I’ll need to start discussing with my betas. Describe the voice? Is it consistent throughout? My narrator is my main character. Charlie spends a bit of time rather confused through the story. Telling the story through the eyes of a confused narrator? Tricky.
This “voicing a novel” experiment will never end for as long as I write. Capturing the right voice, writing the right voice accurately, keeping it fresh, keeping it true to character and/or narrator.
Read widely, write often, edit the hell out of it.
question for writers:
When and how do you find the voice of a story?