Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A to Z Challenge: V is for Voice




V is for Voice:   the sound(s) uttered through the mouth of a living creature, especially of human beings in speaking, shouting, singing, etc.  (Dictionary.com)  Also, the literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author [specific to a story.]   (Wikipedia)

Literary voice is probably the single most difficult concept to explain in the craft of writing.  I think it’s that feeling the reader has that there actually is a person and a personality speaking the words written on the page.  It’s like you’re sitting around a campfire with the narrator and you can see and feel, as well as hear him.  It’s the very flavor of the story. 

Every voice has its own style that comes from deep inside the character.  It’s his way of speaking, his syntax, jargon, or particular vernacular.  Even his opinion is laced throughout the voice.  It is the intimate details of that character’s life experiences that make his voice unique, that call to the reader to come close, have a seat, and sit a spell while he tells you a story. 

Several mechanics help construct the voice, such as the point of view or who exactly is telling the story, which tense the character is using, first, second, or third, and the chronological order in which he shares the tale—whether it is linear or out of sequence.  In addition, the story’s voice comes from what drives the author to tell the story, what the author’s own unresolved inner conflicts may be.  Even though it may not be the author’s personal story, she assists the voice by filtering it through her own experiences.

Jami Gold recently wrote an interesting post on voice that gets down to the nuts and bolts of what it is and how to use it.  While I don’t necessarily agree that it takes a lot of practice, what I do think is that it takes a keen understanding of who exactly is telling the story and why.  The voice is the embodiment of that spirit.  And in the end (as well as the beginning), it is what keeps the reader reading. 

No matter how good the plot, if the voice falls flat, the reader loses interest.  Same holds true for too much voice.  I notice this a lot in YA novels.  Too many authors feel the need to make their protagonists—especially the female ones—overly snarky, sarcastic, acerbic, or just plain too dramatic, which drives me up the wall.  Shatter Me anyone?  That book drove me mad with its melodrama.  

But even adult novels can have irritating voices that keep me from bonding with the main character.  The Descendants comes quickly to mind.  While I did enjoy it in the end, all throughout the novel, I wanted to smack the protagonist, Matt King, upside the head for being such a dimwitted dumbass.  He was so clueless, it was hard for me to believe he was supposed to be an attorney in charge of his vast familial fortune, not to mention the husband of a supermodel wife who lived life by the seat of her pants.  So while voice can pull the reader and tuck him in, it can also chase him away.                          

What kind of voice most attracts or distracts you from getting involved with a story?  How important to you is the voice in relation to the plot? 

23 comments:

JeffO said...

I definitely get where you're coming from on the YA voice - I feel like I'm reading the same character in a different situation or world.

I can't really answer the 'what kind of voice' question, because I won't know until I read it. The kind of voice that works really well in one kind of story may not work well in another.

Angeline Trevena said...

I think voice is the very reason we all have our favourite authors. We buy all their books, however varied they are in genre or plot, because we enjoy their voice.

Chris Fries said...

Great post, Nancy! And another case of our A-to-Z harmony -- I wrote about voice today too, lol!

I really like the detail you go into as to the elements that construct a voice, and how irritating it can be when it's not done well: It makes it hard to identify with the characters, care about the events, or make the writer seem any different than all the others.

Nick Wilford said...

I had a feeling this would be a popular topic today! I'm also on the voice bandwagon. :)

You go into it all much better than me though, Nancy. I really like your point about it being the character's voice telling the story - I hadn't thought about it in that way.

It can make a break a story, for sure. You just know whether you like it, or not, though it can be very hard to put your finger on exactly why.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Personality and spirit - that's a good way to describe it. And yes, I've read books that overused voice. Or let's say, tried to read.

Matthew MacNish said...

The whole thing is so subjective. When I'm reading Epic Fantasy, especially if told in a 3rd person limited or omni POV, I tend to prefer a very subtle voice.

If I'm reading a YA novel, particularly if it's told in 1st person POV, I'll put up with a lot more voice. Though, I haven't read Shatter Me, so I can't say whether too much voice would bother me.

Cortney Pearson said...

It really depends on the story, I guess. I'm not necessarily drawn to one type of voice or another, although humor is always fun.

L.G.Smith said...

Voice for me is like personality. I love a voice that takes a slightly off center POV. I like seeing the odd details that only the narrator or protagonist would notice, and then learning why those things were important enough to mention. What meaning they have to the character. Some writers do this beautifully, and when they do I practically swoon.

Kelly Barnes said...

I'm not particularly choosy when it comes to voice as long as it's consistent.

It should be like the "fifth note" in a barbershop quartet.

The Desert Rocks said...

Great post and something I never think about when I'm scanning the back of a book I want to read. I do think about it when I'm writing and the fact that my beta readers hate my bad guy with a passion and want me to actually take him out of my book or change his name or something--makes me think I made his voice clear as day.

Jay Noel said...

What affects voice is also point of view. Who is narrating the story? I personally write in 3rd person limited with shifting viewpoints.

So I tell the story from various characters' viewpoints, and voice is super-duper important!

Donna K. Weaver said...

What I found difficult was trying to carry the voice over to the query. Elana Johnson said she wrote her query in first person to capture that and then converted it to third. I tried it, and it really helped.

The Golden Eagle said...

I hate it when YA voices get too snarky, sometimes bordering nasty--though I've found it can happen in Adult as well. I like a little sarcasm and humor, but too much attitude and it will deter me from reading.


The Golden Eagle
The Eagle's Aerial Perspective

jamieayres said...

Well, I write in first person POV for YA novels, and that elusive voice is sooooooooo vital. I think a voice that is genuine, not too whiny and doesn't rely too much on the vernacular of the day is important. I have read some YA novels where the 'voice' was too over the top, gratuitous nastiness. Needless to say I didn't finish those books.

Carrie Butler said...

There's nothing worse than a monotone "voice". When I feel detached from the chracter, I can't get invested in the plot.

Carrie Butler said...

...Make that character. :P

Julius Cicero said...

I guess it depends on your own point of view as a reader. People tend to gravitate toward that which they themselves emulate.

Empty Nest Insider said...

In the Descendants, maybe that was a case of the movie being better than the book. It definitely helped that George Clooney starred in the movie. A weak voice or plot could take away the credibility of the story. Victorious "V" post Nancy! Julie

Lynda R Young said...

I thought it was just me thinking many of the characters in YA books are starting to sound overly snarky, hehehe.

I think a good voice and plot go hand in hand--equally important.

Nicky Wells said...

Great post, as always! My voice? Chatty, cheerful, compassionate. I try to tell my books as though I was sitting with my reader--my best friend--having a cuppa and a piece of cake. It's me through and through.

Tia Bach said...

I'm attracted to vulnerability that slowly comes to strength. I do not like whiny (Bella Swan comes to mind) or a character that never seems to grow.

Great post!

Tia@DepressionCookies

Maggie McGee said...

"... especially the female ones—overly snarky, sarcastic, acerbic, or just plain too dramatic, which drives me up the wall. ..."

Do you notice how young women have developed (vor 2+ decades) a "Valley Girls" affectation to their speaking voices, their language choices? This same propensity toward verbal slackishness has overrun young female vocalists as well. I'm just about ready for a hearing aid that I can turn off!
http://badmoodgoodmood.blogspot.com/

Lisa Regan said...

The worst is the voice that is trying to hard. You can just tell this-is-the-author-trying-to-do-the-voice-so-it's-cool. It is worse than no voice at all. And yeah, when the voice is to overdone, it undermines the story. This is a really hard thing for authors to pull off I think!