Monday, March 8, 2010

Finding The Right Voice

I was reading through a YA this weekend on one of my small trips through the bookstore and I really struggled with it - enough that I didn't want to buy the book. It didn't hit me until much later that the reason I struggled with it didn't stem from the topic or the genre, it was simply the voice. The voice of the story just didn't fit with the storyline.

I don't care how unique the story is that a writer creates, or for that matter, how great the characters are, if the voice of the story is wrong, the whole thing is blown. To explain this a bit more, I went back to a model I have used when teaching writing.

According to the 6+1 Trait Writing Model, voice is defined as:
"Voice is the writer coming through the words, the sense that a real person is speaking to us and cares about the message. It is the heart and soul of the writing, the magic, the wit, the feeling, the life and breath. When the writer is engaged personally with the topic, he/she imparts a personal tone and flavor to the piece that is unmistakably his/hers alone. And it is that individual something–different from the mark of all other writers–that we call Voice."

I think the key here is that a real person is speaking to us. Remember that we are reading about human beings (or human like beings for you paranormal people) so we need to hear the voices that really fit with the story and the characters. If the author doesn't have a firm grasp on the genre, or even their characters, the voice may sound forced, or simply be wrong for the book.

For each genre, there is a unique language readers come to expect. Whether it is YA, regency or erotica, the wording is crucial to the story. But there is a bit more to this. You can't just insert the lanaguage and hope the story works. The voice and the tone has to be there as well.

When I started thinking about what to write here, the first thing that popped into my head were movies and specific actors I have seen that didn't quite work. For those of you that know me, I love Shakespeare. I love MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, but I have to say, adding Keanu Reeves really didn't work. The lines were there and I do believe he was trying, but the tone and voice was just not there. What about HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. I love the movie, I think Sean Connery is great, but we have all laughed at how a Russian Submarine Commander had a great Scottish accent. Huh?

The tone you create in your story comes from the way you craft the sentences and create the scenes. It comes from what you decide to focus on in the story and what the characters actually see and do, not simply from what they say. What sensory elements to you bring to the surface and which ones do you move to the back of the story. No, you don't get rid of the elements, just back off on the elements.

Let's talk YA for a second. While teens may focus on fashion and dating, this is not the voice that should be coming through. Teens act and say the things they do as they are working to discover who they really are and where they fit in the world. These other elements - the boyfriend, the prom, the car, and so forth - are simply extensions to what is really going through their heads. This is self discovery.

Take some time to really dissect some of your favorite authors. How do they create that right voice that is both unique to their story and more importantly, unique to their own personal style?


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