Voice, the catchall term that describes how the writers put their thoughts down on the page. A good voice makes a story shine. A bad one will put your manuscript in the rejection pile. How does one develop a voice? I’m far from having a good grasp on my voice, but I’m willing to share what I’ve learned so far.
First, the point-of-view aspect of voice. We’re talking about first person, third person, and the like. This must be mastered before worrying about the other elements of voice. Here is a brief review –
First person: I ran across the road in time to see Randy fall down the embankment. When done well first person stories take on the intimacy of listening to a friend. It can be deeply personal. Although there are a few books out there written in first person; it works best in shorter stories.
Second person: You ran across the road in time to see Randy fall down the embankment. Unless you are writing a “choose your own adventure” book, please don’t even think about using this. It’s irritating!
Third person: Sheila ran across the road in time to see Randy fall down the embankment. Most books and short stories are set in third person. It’s versatile, easy to use, and has limitless potential. There are different types of third person:
Third person omniscient: The narrator knows everything about the plot and the people involved. He chooses to share vital information with the reader as necessary and always tells the truth.
Third person objective: The opposite of omniscient, the fly on the wall narrator. He mentions things the way they are in the moment. He cannot get inside peoples heads and doesn’t know what is going to happen. He is unbiased making him perfect for news articles.
Third person subjective/limited: The narrator is one of the characters and shares what that character sees, thinks, or feels. This is my preferred point of view, it puts the reader in the scene and makes them part of the action. Depending on the needs of the story this point-of-view can shift from character to character, as long as that shift is made clear to the reader.
Whichever point-of-view you choose for your work, it is vital that you stick to it. Every phrase must agree with your choice. When the narrator makes point-of-view errors it makes it harder for the reader to feel immersed in the story, which is never a good thing.
We’ll discuss part two, the more metaphysical aspect of a writer’s voice, tomorrow.