When someone tells me that they hear me in a book or story (fiction
only here — in my essays and columns, you often are getting unfiltered
Tod) I feel disappointed. My characters aren’t me and if you see me,
hear me in the narration, that 4th wall is broken. I want you to hear
the narrator, whomever that might be. If it feels like I’m sitting
there telling you a story, I believe I’ve failed.
His comments were provoked by a blog posting from author Amy Garvey, who was thrilled when one of her readers "heard" her in her prose.
A friend of mine gave me the ultimate compliment recently. (Sadly,
it wasn’t about how much I look like Nicole Kidman.) She’s not much of
a romance reader, but she was interested to see what I’d written. So I
gave her my first book and got an email back which read, “It is so
‘you.’ I feel like you are sitting there telling me the story.”
impressed? I was. Because what it meant to me was that beneath the
story, this reader had heard “my” voice——the writer lurking behind the
characters and the plot.
I may not agree with exactly how Ms. Garvey phrased it ( I don’t think I want the reader to sense the writer and, with it, the construction work behind the story), but I understand her being pleased that her readers heard her voice.
I think the author’s voice is important. Some of my favorite authors have a very distinct voice that carries through all their books, regardless
of the stories they are telling or the characters they are writing about ( Larry McMurtry, Stephen King, Elmore
Leonard, and John Irving immediately come to mind). I think that voice is part of
what makes their books special. Other authors take on the voice of their lead character, and that’s fine, too… but I don’t think either approach is technically superior when it comes to sustaining the "fiction" that the events we are reading about are real.