Your main character has fled from the office she shares with a close co-worker and friend, and has run to the boss’s office. There, in a key scene, she has emoted all over herself, revealing a deep, dark personal secret thereby. (Yes, she still has a job at the end of the scene.) Now she’s back in her own office. Her friend gets in her face and says, “For the love of Pete, would you please tell me what this is all about?”
Your main character is hesitant, but then mutters to herself, “What the heck. The whole world will know by tomorrow.”
Choose what happens next:
Your main character rehashes, practically word for word, the conversation she just had with the boss.
Your main character gives her friend a severely truncated version of the conversation with the boss – the Reader’s Digest version, if you will.
You, as the author, sum up the conversation in a sentence similar to this one: “She told her friend the whole story.”
As I mentioned last time, I have found useful writing tips to be few and far between. This is, to me, one of the most powerful things you can use in creating fiction, but it’s subtle and has no real nuts/bolts application. But just being aware of it helps you when nothing else does. The term is “narrative voice”.
I first heard it in school from Jack Cady, a very talented short story writer who taught writing and science fiction in the Engineering department. Oddly, two weeks later I was sitting in a bar just off campus with Ken Kesey, and he said exactly the same thing. So I took it to heart.
It’s a vague and slippery concept as writing tips go, closer to psychology or spirituality than to medicine or exercise. But you should be aware of it: just keep that awareness a little unfocused. Narrative voice is, in Cady’s words, the way your story wants to tell itself. It’s way more than a point of view or style or dialect or mode or any of that, though all of those are elements in it. You pick up a children’s book about a kid looking for a lost friend and read it, it’s telling itself in a certain way that fits the story. Then you pick up a noir detective story about a guy looking for a lost friend and it tells itself in a very different way. Continue reading “A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS”