Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Of all the difficult tasks that await the writer, understanding voice may claim the prize as the most elusive element of fiction.  It is the one that makes a story memorable.  How do you define voice?  No two writers describe it the same way.  I think that is because, unlike transitions, point of view and other elements of fiction that can be learned, parsed and practiced, voice comes from deep in the psyche of the writer, as impossible to explain, manage or bend to our will as our creative vision.  To me, voice is not something I consciously choose, but rather it is the song that arises with the story, the rhythms and intent of the storyteller (we have many inside us) that delivers the story to me.

People think voice is diction, dialect, the sound of the characters speaking.  To me it is not.  Those things are manipulated by the narrator to hold the reader’s interest, controlled as best I can (note, the writer is not the narrator of the story, but a character), to do justice to my story.  But the voice lifts all that up so that my plot, characters, setting, narrator become story.  Perhaps you can see that I am having my own difficulties conveying voice.  It is everything you read about when a writer talks about voice, because that is his or her experience of voice, a unique attribute of each story.

The voice in my stories changes with each tale, because each story, I hope, is different and unique with its own singular voice.  Once the voice comes to me, and I believe it comes unconsciously, then I must stay tuned to that frequency as I write. But getting those sound waves to reach my consciousness?  That requires listening to my story as it comes to me.  Sometimes I wait between each line that I write to hear the story coming through its voice, rather than just as text coming from my brain.  That is one of the beauties of writing every day, thevoice rising up from the depths finds it channel, its opening and I can connect with it more easily.  It is not flailing away against closed doors.

Above all, voice is authentic.  I don’t strain to achieve voice, for it is the voice I hear in my head when my story is speaking to me.  It may come with the first line I write, or emerge slowly over several drafts.  I can think through a character, a plot, but I feel as though voice is delivered to me with the words.  I know that I must go deep inside and allow it to come to me. 

It may take many drafts before the right voice for the story appears, but when it does, you know it, your reader will know. 

For another take on voice, read Susan Cushman’s post about her recent stay at a writer’s conference. 

See if you can distinguish the voice in your stories.  That in itself is a writer’s meditation.  Please let me know in the comments your experience with voice.

No comments:

Post a Comment