Voice. What Does Your Reader “Hear”?

“Voice”. It says everything about your story.

Imagine for a moment you are in the audience of a very moving play. The actors and actresses have powerfully conveyed the drama of the scene. There is desperation in their situation. The forces of evil are amassing. They are losing hope. Suddenly, a new actor appears on the scene! Your heart beats quicker in joyful anticipation. Here is the hero to save the day. Standing like a giant on the stage, he turns to face the audience to speak his majestic lines and….

…and what comes out? The squeak of a thirteen year old boy on the losing cusp of puberty.

You grimace. You fidget. You titter – in amusement and embarrassment. You do all sorts of things but believe in the tale that, until a moment ago, had captivated you.

Voice.

Even should that actor speak lines more beautifully written than any Shakespeare imagined, the audience will neither appreciate them nor believe them. The audience does not have any faith that this character is capable of saving the day. The power of the scene, the pathos, the need, the desperation… all lost.

Voice.

Voice is the quality of matching the tone and quality of the language with the speaker. Note, voice is only secondarily about the actual words used, as in dialogue. Voice demands that the quality of the speaker’s presence is true. This is particularly true when we speak of the narrative voice, for it is that voice which will let the reader know if the story can be trusted. If the narrative voice is true and compelling, you can tell the most imaginative story of fantasy, with characters traveling through time or shifting shape, and your readers will embrace your story. If your narrative voice is not credible, if it does not honor the internal logic of your story, then you can pen a character crossing a street on a beautiful, noontime day and your readers will doubt your story.

Voice is the honor your bring to the telling of your story.

It is not an easy quality to capture but it is often the difference between a well-written but ultimately unfulfilling tale and a soaring tale that captures your heart and your mind, a story that stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page (or finger swept the final iBook or Kindle screen.) Voice is the reason that writing teachers emphasize that courage is a necessary quality for writing a good story.

“Listen” to your narrative voice. Does it squeak when it should command, or shout when it should whisper? Does it sing when it should fall to silence or remain silent when it should shout? If your narrative voice speaks the way you would have it be heard, you have written a masterpiece!

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