Finding the right storytelling voice has launched the career of many a novelist. In this post I’m going to talk about how to discover where your voice is strongest and how you can build from there.
In a previous post, I provided a word cloud so that you could begin thinking about voice. Even with that word cloud, I find it hard to sum up what makes a voice unique, and I imagine you do, too. Let’s start by taking a look at a few more voices.
The storytelling voices below are American voices, written in the American vernacular–common speech that’s not gussied up by a lot of high-toned, Latin words.
Tom and Huck from an 1886 version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Image from Open Clip Art via
- “You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.” (Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)
- “All this happened, more or less.” (Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five)
- “First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mt. Sebastian College in New Jersey.” (Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried)
Notice that the writers aren’t trying too hard. They don’t pile on adjectives. They don’t strain to make their words “important” or “poetic.” It’s as if a real person has seated himself next to you and begun to tell his story. “Listen to this. You’re not going to believe what happened.”
A storytelling voice is urgent. The voice buttonholes you until you listen. If the voice captures your attention, you will.
What Constitutes Voice?
The words we use to describe voice have to do with emotion. Because of that, most of the words in my word cloud are “feelings” words.
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