Voice, by Peter Adler
I’ve noticed something interesting on my eighty-minute commute to work: it’s not the plot or characters that hold my attention in the audio books I listen to; it’s the narrative voice. For those unfamiliar with the term, voice is that unique tang you hear-feel in the narration. It’s that intangible magic in the words, that thing that catches your ear, makes you smile, laugh, or cry. It’s the style of the writer, but it’s so much more than that. There are probably as many definitions of voice as there are writers. Here’s my take: voice-magic happens when the attitude of the story’s character, currently on stage, comes through in the narration.
The novel that knocked this home for me was The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, by Barry Lyga. What amazed me about the book was that the main character, who narrated the novel in first person, broke away from the story to comment on what was going on. Though these diversions didn’t move the plot forward one inch, his quips were so amusing, so entertaining, so dripping in attitude, that I was riveted.
The narrator doesn’t have to be one of the characters talking to us in first person. In my novel, Wyndano’s Cloak, I use a third-person narrator. With a few exceptions, the point of view in the story sticks with one or the other of the book’s heroines, Jen and Bit. I set myself the goal that if a reader turned randomly anywhere in the book, they could tell by the voice of the narrator if they were in Bit’s or Jen’s section. I’m not talking about dialogue here. I’m talking about the unique way a character experiences and responds to themselves and their world, how they feel, what they think. In other words, their attitude.
For example, Bit is a sensitive artist. When she enters the Royal Stable of Aerdem, the narrative voice sounds like this:
“A wall running nearly the length of the building divided the interior. This side was home to carriages, buckboards, mud and hunting wagons, phaetons, and buggies. They seemed to be sleeping, and Bit passed each with hushed reverence, admiring the workmanship—lacquered wood, wicker armrests, polished lanterns, peacock-blue wheel spokes. She lingered when she reached the barouche. Raindrops from last night’s storm still jeweled the black surface, catching sunlight from the open back door. Sadness wrapped her heart. She had ridden to the masked ball in the barouche.”
Let’s contrast that with Jen. She’s fourteen, a natural athlete, and fiercely protective of her family, who she fears are in danger, a fear that is not groundless. The narrative voice for her sections needed to be lean, tough, and determined.
“That was when she heard the whispering. Alert, she backed away from the tree and studied it at a crouch. The air was still. The grass motionless. But the leaves stirred and fluttered. Words floated down. At first they were indistinct, as if someone called through a distant snowstorm. One word emerged clearly, and an icy finger traced down her spine.
“She heard her name.
“She backed away until she squatted on some rocks that extended into the pool. Every muscle—sun-hammered and wind-hardened like metal in a forge—was poised to spring. Phrases whispered down. The only sense she could make was that something was coming. Something dangerous.
“She thought of her family. Fear tightened around her heart. She was a hair’s-breadth away from running to them. Her feet stayed rooted to the spot. Maybe she’d hear more.”
Notice that none of this is written as interior monologue, but we’re inside Jen’s skin. We know what she’s thinking and feeling. If she walked through the Royal Stable, she wouldn’t admire the workmanship of the carriage maker with reverence, like Bit did, she’d be scanning the shadows for spies or assassins!
How does one achieve voice? You have to know your characters better than yourself. You have to know how they respond to everything, their thoughts, feelings, needs, values, and attitudes. Let these things come out in the tone of your narrative when your character is on stage. Let that voice through. You’ll bring new depths to your writing, and readers will stayed glued to your every word, dying to get their hands on your next book.
Wyndano’s Cloak Synopsis:Jen has settled into a peaceful life when a terrifying event awakens old fears—of being homeless and alone, of a danger horrible enough to destroy her family and shatter her world forever.
She is certain that Naryfel, a shadowy figure from her past, has returned and is concentrating the full force of her hate on Jen's family. But how will she strike? A knife in the dark? An attack from her legions? Or with the dark arts and twisted creatures she commands with sinister cunning.
Wyndano's Cloak may be Jen's only hope. If she’s got what it takes to use it . . .
About the Author:
A. R. Silverberry has won a dozen awards, including Gold Medal Winner in the 2011 Benjamin Franklin Awards for Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction; Gold Medal Winner in the 2010 Readers Favorite Awards for Preteen Fiction; and Silver Medal Winner 2011 in the Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book, Children’s/Young Adult. He lives in California, where the majestic coastline, trees, and mountains inspire his writing. Wyndano's Cloak is his first novel. Follow him at the links below!A. R. Silverberry’s Website