Hearing Voices: The Story Speaks

How many voices do you run across in a yarn? Typically you run into three types. Sure, we got types. And they’ve all got to play in order to make a story sing.

In a previous post, I rambled on about the most obvious of voices, dialogue. More subtle, perhaps more cunning, is the voice of the story itself.

Every yarns has its own point of view, perspective, take. It’s the voice that sets the tone and creates the story’s narrative form. It’s the brain and the heart behind the story. It ain’t easily achieved, but the idea’s as simple as asking, “Who’s telling the story?”

Leave it as easy as that for the moment. Imagine someone else is telling you the story, imagine the possibilities, and wake up to all those possibilities. Who, exactly, is putting across your little adventure? Your eight-year-old grandchild? A rummy at the bar? Your main character from her jail cell? That effects everything, from the subjectivity to the vernacular to the point of reference. Is it told with a sense of humor or as dire as hard-boiled can get?

Think about the heavy contrast going from a story narrated by Mister Rogers to one related by Rod Serling. Your story has its own, peculiar voice. It speaks up from the very first word, the initial combination of words, the very weight or weightlessness of the first idea or description. Name your poison and lay it on.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long precisely –having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

 

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