How to become a world famous, fabulously successful writer (part 3)

The Right Voice Can Make Your Story Sing!

By Richard H. Weiss
Copyright Richard H. Weiss, 2003
All rights reserved

Gather round. It's story time. Let's read aloud the beginning from Stephen King's book, "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon." Listen to his voice:

"The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted. Trisha McFarland discovered this when she was nine years old. At ten o'clock on a morning in early June she was sitting in the back seat of her mother's Dodge Caravan, wearing her blue Red Sox batting practice jersey (the one with 36 GORDON on the back) and playing with Mona, her doll. At 10:30 she was lost in the woods. By 11 she was trying not to be terrified, trying not to let herself think, 'This is serious, this is very serious.' Trying not to think that sometimes when people got lost in the woods they got seriously hurt. Sometimes they died."

Sounds pretty creepy, doesn't it? Stephen King has a creepy voice. But it's also kind of familiar. It's the voice of a 9-year-old girl who's afraid she might die. King can write out of both sides of his mouth. That's one reason he's a world-famous, fabulously wealthy writer. And we're not . . . not yet.

You've got a writer's voice.

We all do. Your might think of your voice as the way you sound when you're with your friends. You've probably got another voice for your parents and one for your teachers.

Every story needs to have its own voice, depending on the circumstances in the story.

Messing around with your voice is one of the best parts of writing. You may have noticed my voice in this story. It's the sound of a 51-year-old guy trying to sound slightly hip like a teenager. You may have found this kind of engaging. It might also have annoyed you.

"Who does he think he is?" You might have asked yourself. That's a concern when it comes to voice. You don't want your voice to be so obnoxious that your readers get tired of hearing it.

For that reason, many excellent writers have quiet, soothing voices.

E.B. White was like that. His voice is gentle and conversational. Here's his introduction to Stuart Little. Notice, though, that he's writing about something that's wildly absurd:

"When Mrs. Frederick C. Little's second son arrived, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse. The truth of the matter was, the baby looked very much like a mouse in every way. He was only about two inches high; and he had a mouse's sharp nose, a mouse's tail, a mouse's whiskers, and the pleasant shy manner of a mouse. Before he was many days old he was not only looking like a mouse but acting like one too - wearing a gray hat and carrying a small cane. Mr. And Mrs. Little named him Stuart and Mr. Little made him a tiny bed out of four clothes pins and a cigarette box."

How does White make his voice so soothing? Well, for one thing, he doesn't use any big words. Nor is he hip.

Notice how he calls Stuart's parents, Mr. and Mrs.? He also uses what we call figures of speech like "The truth of the matter . . . " In that way, White makes us forget - at least for a moment - that people can't have mice for babies. By using everyday language, he makes it sound like the most natural thing in the world.

J.D. Salinger writes in an entirely different voice as he introduces Holden Caulfield in his classic novel "Catcher in the Rye." Here's Holden:

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages a piece if I told anything pretty personal about them."

Sound like someone you know? Holden is 16.

You might be interested to know that Salinger wrote this book in 1945 (it was published in 1951). Like eons ago. Ever since, countless authors have been trying to give their young characters the same kind of edgy voice that sounds exactly how kids think and talk.

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