Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Finding A Voice

One of the hardest parts of telling a story is figuring how to tell the story, ie – what voice do you want to use.  The narrative quality of any novel sets the tone for the entire book.  Should it have dry wit?  Should it be told as a poignant look back on life?  Is this a sage old man or an impetuous child?

Obviously effect is the driving factor.  When we tell a story, we’re looking for how our narration will make the audience feel.  Twas The Night Before Christmas has a dreamy kind of quality, told from the point of view of a loving father who is trying to convey how special the visit of Santa Clause is for his children.  Conversely, one of the books I’m reading right now, Happy Hour In Hell by Tad Williams, has a smart ass narration so that we understand the storyteller is a jaded fellow who may be using humor to cover up some insecurities.

Even before outlining, I think you have to figure out what the narrator will be like, for this will affect the flow of the story.  As the story forms and the characters take shape, figure out not only what point of view you’ll narrate from, but what the style will be.  However, I caution you too much against using a style that’s unfamiliar or uncomfortable to you.  Yes, that kind of thing is fine in experimental writing where you want to try and get better, but doing it in a book you want to sell isn’t advisable since your discomfort will come across.  For example, I originally wanted to write Wrongful Death from the point of view of a high school girl.  Unfortunately, try as I might, I discovered I possess no more insight into high school girl mentality today than I did when I was in high school.  Therefore, I changed the narration to that of a high school boy since I once was one, and I’m pretty familiar with how they think.

Regardless of your style, find one and stick to it.  It’s okay to change styles if you change points of view, but don’t do this too often since your audience gets used to one voice, and it can be unsettling to suddenly be reading a different one.  Imagine going from the scholarly voice of Max Brooks in World War Z to the boisterous voice of Sheila Tubman in Otherwise Known As Sheila The Great – one could only imagine how that might turn readers off due to such disparate voices.

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