Here's the thing, you may not be able to tuna fish but you can tuna manuscript. Novels have sound, cadence, rhythm. They have voice. As I said in my last post this is a subject that gets discussed often. Yet, for many writers it is still a question. It's simply hard to define what exactly voice is and isn't. Some say it's style. It's more than that. Some say it's how characters talk—it's more than that. Some say it's how the story sounds. It's more than that. Some say it's word choices, phrases, syntax. It's more than that and all these things. Put it all together and voice is what compels the reader to give herself over to the story.
I don't consider myself Obi Wan Kenobi when it comes to writing but I would like to offer a few insights I have had over the years about narrative voice. I remember when my agent first told me I had a great voice. I was stunned, elated and thrilled. I had always wanted to be considered a writer with a great voice. I don't know, it might have been sibling rivalry, my sister and personal hero, Barbara is a singer with a great voice. I wanted to be like her. Unfortunately I cannot sing. But I can, it seems, lay out a line of words and make them sing for me.
But it wasn't always this way. Voice sneaked up on me one day. All of a sudden a lot of different factors came together and when I read what I had written I knew it sounded good. I knew I uncovered the narrative voice that had been lurking just under the surface of my writing.
Factor number one. Details. Voice comes through in details. Specifics. Instead of writing, "Chloe ate a bowl of ice cream." Try making it more concrete with images and feeling. What flavor, color, compare it to something. If this is first person or even third for that matter, think about Chloe, who is she, where does she live, better yet, where does she come from? Is she a woman who grew up on Cobbs Creek Parkway in West Philadelphia? Then she would have very specific memories that you can draw from to help her (and your reader) experience the ice cream. Maybe the color reminds her of the puppy she got one Christmas but only lived a few days because it was killed the next morning by a speeding nutjob in bright red Baracuda. Bring all this into the sentence. DON'T FLINCH! Voice is in the details. Tuna on the other hand don't remember the details and will never have a good narrative voice.
Tomorrow we'll look at voice and attitude.