This week, I ended up doing something I rarely like to do — I’m reading more than one book at a time. In fact, I’m reading three.
1. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier (A middle grade selected for my Reading Young Book Club.)
2. Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (a middle grade, Newbery winner–picked it up for a dinner with the author.)
3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (A YA audio book that I bought to keep me company on a road trip.)
And as I’m reading (and listening) I’m struck by the vast differences in Voice.
Writers ask me all the time about Voice. It’s one of those all-important elements of writing that’s hard to explain. Simply put, it’s how you say something.
Not quite the definition you were hoping for?
OK — here’s an official one: The author’s voice in an amalgam of the many factors that distinguish a writer from all other writers. (Now–who would like a definition of amalgam?)
Told you it’s hard to explain. The key here is that voice is unique to each person (and character) so that the exact combination of words and the style of speech and the turn of phrase is said in such a way that no one else could quite duplicate it. Through character speech, you are able to see character.
Maybe I can’t explain it very well, but that’s okay. Because I can go one better. Rather than tell, I can show. And I didn’t have to look any further than the books I’m in the middle of right now. So here is a snippet from each–and a heck of a good lesson in Voice.
Screams, as you know, are dreadful, shrill noises that tiresome people make when they want attention. They are rarely effective, as most hearers simply plug their ears and go on about their business. But there is another kind of scream that cannot be ignored so eaily: the cry of a creature facing death–a primal, desperate gasp that speaks not to the ears, but to the very quick of our beings.I was a nosebleeder. The moment something startled me or whenever I got over-excited or spooked about any little thing blood would spray out of my nose holes like dragon flames. He wasn’t human. He wasn’t even from her world. He was a soldier with scores of kills on his hands, and he was the enemy of her family. And yet, something tied them together, stronger than any of that, something with the power to conduct her blood and breath like a symphony, so that anything she did to fight against it felt like discord, like disharmony with her self.
Can you see the character? Feel the world? Sense the atmosphere? So much is revealed through Voice, it’s pretty amazing really. The other important thing here is that each voice is so unique that if I were to pull a paragraph from one book into another it would stick out like a sore thumb. That’s the kind of Voice that sets a book apart–one that sounds like nothing else.
And I knew all of that, but it’s really been illustrated this week as I’ve been reading. What about the book(s) you’re reading now? Is the voice unique? I invite you to add a few lines from the story in the comments –the more examples the better.