BookEnds has a guest post today about voice. Voice seems like that ever-elusive, hard to capture but easy to spot element that can absolutely sell a book. And the lack of which can sink a book, even one of strong character and plot. I recently read an article about how to write well takes a devotion much like method acting: become your character - get inside their skin.
My own opinion is this is easier with first person than with third person.
With the book I am writing, I deliberately chose first person to allow Bab's quirky side and very Texas roots come through. By taking her voice instead of my own, the story has come alive much more than my first book, in which the narrator is really a outside, objective, and frankly, a boring storyteller. Try as I might in that first work, I had the hardest time infusing personality into a narrator which was only a disembodied (and uninvolved) voice.
Editorial Anonymous addressed that this week in a great post on voice as well. She answered a question that I've been pondering a lot lately: Is it possible to have a really strong voice in the third-person narrator?
Her answer: absolutely! And to prove it, she gives excerpts from books with strong third-person voice. My favorite is this example from Ivy and Bean, one of my daughter's favorite book series:
It all began because Bean was playing a trick on her older sister. Bean's older sister was named Nancy. She was eleven. Nancy thought Bean was a pain and a pest. Bean thought Nancy was a booger-head.
That one word, booger-head, sets a tone, and essentially establishes the side the narrator will take. It places the narrator more at Bean's level of maturity instead of an adults. It is playful. It's exactly the kind of book a seven year old girl would love.
This post, especially with all the examples, focuses on how important word choice is. It's important to know whose side you are on as the narrator. Writing novels isn't like writing the news (or at least how the news is suppose to be: objective!). As writers, we can choose to identify with a character. Even if we do it as a third person narrator.
The most difficult part for me as a writer is to let go of who I am and to allow myself to be someone else. There are times I start to write things and stop because it is not something I would do or say. If it goes against my own beliefs, for example, or if it is harsh, or mean, or emphatically politically incorrect. Babs, for example, uses the word fat a lot. For people. To their faces. She isn't trying to be mean, but she just "calls 'em as she sees 'em."
Of course, that one only made me wince a teesy bit. There is a whole element of the story I am approaching now that deals with religion. I find myself not wanting to step on anyone's toes. Not offend anyone. And then I realize, this isn't about me. It isn't me saying these words; it isn't my history - my baggage. If I write it the way my life is, or the way I think, I completely lose Babs. Her voice disappears. And frankly, my own voice isn't that interesting.
For all the agents that write about queries, I wish there were equal amounts of posts on voice, because it seems to me that if you can capture that, the rest will fall into place. Including the query.
Do you think first person is easier than third person to create a strong voice?
What books do you know that have strong voices that drew you in immediately?