Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The art of voice

As a writer you hear a lot about voice. These are often vague concepts. People can tell you whether they like your voice or not but can't tell you what it is or how to fix it. For the purposes of this blog, I'll define voice as the music of your prose. Vague, right? Broken down it becomes about the words that you choose and the length of your sentences and the way you put your paragraphs together. Some people write in long lyrical prose while others write in short choppy sentences. Some love interesting words while others go for more common place words to express the story they want to tell. No two writers choose the same words. And that, my friends, is voice.
What do you want to accomplish with your voice? You want to seduce the reader.
How do you do this?
Choose your words, paragraph breaks and scenes carefully. Think about them. For instance: need to speed up your pacing in certain areas? Short choppy sentences intensify a scene. One or two syllable words punctuate a dark moment or a bit of humor. very your sentence lengths to engage the readers eye. Your word choice makes all the difference.
Finally, clean up your style with the following five rules:
1) Know the actual definition of the words you choose. Often times someone will write, "the gorge rose in her throat in revulsion." If you look of the definition of the word gorge- it is the throat or gullet in this instance. In other words, the writer is saying that the throat rose in her throat.
2) Do your best to create a clean manuscript free from typos, spelling and grammar errors. (As I've talked about before, this is nearly impossible in a 90,000 manuscript, but you have to really try. More than one proof reader is always a good way to tackle this.)
3) Do your research. There should be no cell phones in the 1920's.
4) Don't forget your theme and premise. Every word, sentence, paragraph and scene must tie directly back to your plot.
5) Omit needless words and repetitive words.
Voice is the ability to lead the reader into your story world using their imagination. Choose your words carefully and do the work of style revision. Remember, the art of voice is found in the white space between the words where the reader's mind creates their own personal connection to the story.


Judy Croome said...

Brilliant end line, Nancy. It sums up voice beautifully. The five rules are well defined too. Rule 2 3 & 5 are sheer hard work, but worth the effort. Rule 4 I have to be cautious with - sometimes I'm so focused on the theme I forget that the story must come first. In future, I'm going to remind myself of the importance of the white space between words!

Judy (South Africa)

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Judy, thanks!
I think the art part comes when you find the balance between too much description and not enough.

Jessica Nelson said...

Excellent tips Nancy, and good things for me to remember. Thanks!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jessica, thanks! Cheers~

Linda Kage said...

Now I'm going to have to go through all my stories and see how much I use gorge!!

I used to say "till" for "until" as well 'til I learned that was all wrong.

And I had no idea assume was really only supposed to be used for putting somehting into position (assume the position). Most assumes I used were technically supposed to be presume. I only learned that one a few months ago!

Like, wow, Nance. Thanks a mil'. I totally learned something new (good enough valley girl voice??)

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Linda,

Thanks for the smile. If it helps, I still have words I'm learning about. It's because we speak in local lazy American and while everyone here knows what we mean, it doesn't make it right.
There is a professor at my school who hates the word grimace. Look it up, I don't think it means what we think it means. Cheers~