One of the hardest elements to explain to aspiring writers is voice. It’s not enough to say ‘voice is how you tell the story’. In fact, where voice is concerned, it’s easier to show, not tell, and the most effective way to show is by reading aloud. Most of my favourite writers are outstanding users of voice.
For the purposes of this piece, I tried to list everything I believe goes into creating an effective voice. Not so easy. My own best writing comes intuitively, not by means of a conscious intellectual process. Voice emerges from characters and story. Still, here goes:
1. Point of view (first, second, third – tight third, looser third, omniscient narrator – other, such as diaries and documents, visions, dreams)
a) one POV
b) different POVs for different sections
2. Tense (present, past, other)
a) one tense throughout
b) more than one tense
3. Vocabulary / language
a) limited or extensive; does it depend on the POV character?
b) formal or informal
c) modern, archaic, historical
d) idiom – perhaps particular to a character
f) characteristic turns of phrase
g) dialogue vs narrative – different?
4. Sentence structure
a) short, long, varied
b) complete or incomplete sentences, fragments
c) other stylistic quirks, eg preferred punctuation
5. Paragraph length
That all looks a bit bald and dry, but those are some of the elements you’ll use to create the voice (or voices) for your novel. And boy, does it make a difference when you do it well! Getting the voice right is critical to producing a story that leaps off the page and, in particular, to making characters real. Expertly used, the right voice can create a whole world.
A flair for voice can lift your work from competent to great. A writer who has the gift can grab us from the first paragraph. Here are some examples: [Read more…]