I Hear Voices

My brother Tod has started an interesting discussion on his blog about the role of  voice in fiction.

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.

3 thoughts on “I Hear Voices”

  1. I started selling copies of my book directly (Hurry up, Ingram!) and started getting feedback. One guy walked up to me at work and said, “Nick Kepler’s you, isn’t he?”
    Which is interesting, because I don’t think he is me. But it goes back to voice. You can read a Lawrence Block novel – Bernie or Scudder, both first person series – and still tell Block wrote it, even when the two characters are so completely unlike each other. (For starters, Bernie still drinks, but is much pickier about his booze than Scudder ever was.)

  2. A writer can’t help but have his voice in his work. The choice of words and the way they are put together is purely that author. Even their characters, no matter how distinct, still have some of the author in them. And the book is a story only they could tell. I find the more I know about an author, the more fun I have reading their books because the better I connect.


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