Monday, July 07, 2014

Voice In Narrative: The Inexplicable

Novels have a voice, which you may have learned when an agent rejected your manuscript because they did not fall in love with the voice of your particular offering.

And off you go, to find out what is 'voice' and how can you fix it so that someone will take you on as a client.

What you will find is that voice is not easily defined, and so it it not easy to explain. If it's there, someone might say, I can hear it. Little good that does you if you're after repairing it.

In today's Irish Times, the ongoing series of articles on writing touches on voice, but the authors who are questioned don't really have a simple explanation of what the voice is. They know their novels have a voice, and they are aware of its presence. They can manipulate the voice to create the tone of the novel, but what is it, exactly?

The voice is what you hear in your head as you read. It is made up of the words that you write, of course, but the words will have a rhythm to them that is only apparent when you actually read them. The best way to understand voice is to read a great deal and listen to what you are reading instead of concentrating on the plot or character names or settings.

Read extensively and you'll come to see that characters are well-written when they don't all sound the same. People have different ways of talking, whether it is long passages or short answers. A teen speaking to an adult would largely grunt, for example, while the adult could ramble on and on trying to extract some slight fragment of information from said teen. Someone in the throes of depression would offer up a word or two but would keep the dialogue largely internal. Using real life experiences helps an author create the voice of the novel, if it's YA or a navel-gazer.

Read outside your preferred genre to get away from a captivating story that could distract you from your analysis. This is reading for study, like homework, and not reading for pleasure.

Voice is difficult to explain, but it is there in a manuscript. Struggling with voice? Read your manuscript out loud and listen to it. You'll hear the clunky bits, the sections that don't work. Maybe it's a case of you trying to write the story, when it's the characters who do the telling. The characters give the voice, and if you are writing, you have to let them do it their way.

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