voice in fiction

Thursday, January 27th, 2005

LTS writes of voice in fiction

Voice, I have found, is not necessarily a single entity assigned to a writer, but something that is uniquely his or hers to formulate into a recognizable perhaps, but multilingual style creation of a skilled writer. We all have several voices, most noticeably the contrast between our content self and the one who is upset or angry. Perhaps another way of describing the difference is the way we are with friends versus the way we are with strangers, or in an environment in which we are unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or intimidated.

I don’t know if voice has a lot to do with style or the crafting of a piece, but I do know that it’s a tough thing to rationalize or put into explanatory language. It may be something that just is. It may be something having to do with point of view, the way a persona “sees” the world in the narrative. It’s also hard to come up with examples of voice in a fiction that demonstrates “itself.” Here are the first few sentences of The Signing by Stephen Dixon

My wife dies. I kiss her hands and leave the hospital room. A nurse runs after me as I walk down the hall.

Here the narrator, the protagonist, tells us only what happens, so what dominates the entrance into the story is event and cause and effect: “this happened; I did this.” We will learn in the story that the “the voice” isn’t about rationalizing, explaining, or commenting. At this point I would say that the story as a whole must sustain the “point of view” and the mannerism of the narrator in his telling. He must have mannerisms, a way of talking, moving, and seeing. Here’s some of the dialogue

“They want you back upstairs to sign some papers,” he says.

“Too late. She’s dead. I’m alone. I kissed her hands. You can have the body. I just want to far away from here and as soon as I can.

. . . .

“Do what you want with her body. There’s nothing I ever want to do with her again. I’ll never speak her name. Never go back to our apartment. Our car I’m going to let rot in the street till it’s towed away. This wristwatch. She bought it for me and wore it a few times herself.” I throw it out the window.

Consistent. Speedy. A particular use of words and phrasing. “I’ll never speak her name. Never go back . . . Our car . . .” and so forth. This voice just works.

Linking from a writing journal is going to be cool, dude. This is the stuff.


3 responses to “voice in fiction”

  1. gibb says:

    I think the sense of resignation, acceptance of death as an end to his own circumstance of living (the change) is enhanced by the short sentences, the clipped cold wording. I feel that that is part of the “voice” of the narrator, and thus would include the style of writing.

  2. steve says:

    It may be, but in many ways the way we think about both style and voice can inform a story, but how does it work in the writing: what should the writer at the desk be thinking about?

  3. gibb says:

    I’m trying to imagine it. I would be suppressing the excitement at the flow of words, the way they are magically turning from sentences to story. I would have reread what I’d just written to find a place to be, to exist in a space where my wife had just died.

    I don’t think there’s a “what should” for all writers when it is happening.