Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Voice of a Book

Reading thuRsday

[I wrote the following in March, 2009]

I've been thinking about voice as I've caught up on my Newbery reading. I was particularly struck by the voices in Niel Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and in Savvy by Ingrid Law.

Savvy is the kind of 1st person narrative that comes first to mind when we talk about voice. The 13-year-old narrator sounds like a unique individual from the beginning.

The Graveyard Book is 3rd person (with occasional narrative intrusions), but it has voice too. How so? I don't have specific examples, but it's easy to imagine that the story would have been much less charming if told differently.

The notion that voice = characters-with-attitude is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg (if it doesn't miss the point entirely). I think voice = storytelling.

Go back to the primordial camp fires. What has always set the storyteller apart from the rest? The way they tell the story. In the old days, every one knew the story but some could tell it better than others.

This gets to the heart of voice--your voice as an author: it's about how you tell the story. What do you include? What do you leave out? What do you emphasize? How do you describe things? (And a thousand other details.)

There's an analogy with photography. A thousand people might snap a shot of something but it's the photographer that produces the memorable image. Why? They say it's because he or she has an eye. What they mean is that the photographer has an interesting way of looking at things and framing images.

A photographer's eye, an author's voice; it seems to me it's about how you express your unique perspective.

What do you think?

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

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