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“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.” (Matilda ~ Roald Dahl)
What do you get from that opening? Nothing about the main character. No hint about the plot. No theme, yet. But you get a good sense of the narrator's voice, don't you? Aren't you curious to read on to see what this guy says next? He calls children "disgusting little blisters" for crying out loud. That's voice.
Voice can change a story. Here are other voices saying the same thing as above:
I don't care for the fact that no matter how obnoxious children are, their parents still love them.
Parents, you see, are blind. Their children may throw fits that would make a rabid alley dog jealous, and still the parents will think they have born and reared perfect little darlings.
They's none as dear as yo' own babies. When them little tykes is bad, they jes' need lovin'.
Voice is about the tone, the diction, and the figures of speech that a character or narrator uses. Voice can tell us whether a piece will be rip-roaring or a boring, snoring snooze fest.
We sometimes think that voice can't be learned, but it can be. It is learned, in fact. Always. No baby ever came out of the womb telling stories.
We pick up narrative voice from our mothers and our fathers, from the books we read, and from the movies we watch.
So if you want to learn a certain voice, listen to it until you get the accent down.
Here are several different kinds of voices:
Voyage of the Dawn Treader ~ CS Lewis:There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. (Accessible and witty)
Pride and Prejudice ~ Jane Austen:It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. (Educated and witty)
Hatchet ~ Gary Paulsen:Thirteen-year old Brian Robeson, the sole passenger on a small plane from Hampton, New York to the north woods of Canada, boards the aircraft excited at the notion of flying in a single-engine plane. (Straight reporting with no frills)
Lord of the Flies ~ William Golding:The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon (Accessible and descriptive)
Huckleberry Finn ~ Mark Twain:
"You don't know about me without you have read a book called 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,' but that ain't no matter." (Uneducated)
Play around with voice. Different voices will fit different books. Keep trying until you find one that's comfortable for you and interesting to readers.
Sally-Apokedak.com) is an associate agent with the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency.
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