One of the best things about reading a great story is sinking into it -- disappearing for a while, living with the characters and escaping from my own living, breathing, everyday reality. Moving into the world spoken by the narrator and…oh, yeah…written by the author.
Disagree? Nope. I didn’t think so.
This usually happens to me before I realize it. I find myself so deeply into the story that I feel like I want to call up the characters and hang out. Get a cup of coffee with them. Text them about Friday night plans. Borrow their favorite DVD. Sit up late at night and talk about God and love and sex and justice.
Or in the case of some of the stories for the middle grade set – maybe play ball or ride bikes until the streetlights blink on and we know we are going to be late getting home.
Although you know that I’m not a huge fan of “how to write books” books, I did find a helpful chapter on this mysterious effect in the Gotham Writers’ Workshop: Writing Fiction (Bloomsbury, 2003). Hardy Griffin contributed the chapter called Voice: The Sound of a Story. He defines voice as “what readers ‘hear’ in their heads when they’re reading. Voice is the ‘sound’ of the story.” I also liked this from his chapter – “…the voice of a piece is what makes it special, what sets it apart and makes it feel lived.”
I like that – the thing that makes a story feel lived. That, in my mind, is what pulls us in as readers.
I’ve lost myself in two novels recently – both YA – that are fan-freakin’-tastic examples of voice.
This week, I finished National Book Award Winner The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. (I tend to pick up anything with one of those glittery award stickers on the cover. Doesn’t even matter what it looks like, what it’s about, or who wrote it. I figure if it won an award that merits a glittery sticker, then I can learn from it!)
How the heck can I hope to come up with a voice for my own characters as poignant and true as Junior’s? Sigh…
Another example that I keep within arm’s reach (face-out, believe it or not, on my bookshelf next to my official reading chair) is Will Grayson, Will Grayson by the inestimable John Green and David Levithan. (I don’t have an adjective for Mr. Levithan simply because I haven’t read enough of his work yet. Mr. Green, on the other hand, is my HERO. Go get any book he has written. And read it. Now.)
And don’t even get me started on the “massively fabulous” Tiny Cooper. He may be a supporting character, but he steals the story with his own personality, struggles and truth. In a word: his own voice.
I don’t think I can ever learn enough from writers like Alexie, Levithan, and Green – so I’ll keep hunting down their slots in the Borders book store shelves and doing a little jig of joy when I see a title I haven’t read before. And then I’ll try to learn from them – take some of their skill with voice and somehow reinterpret it into my own characters. Make my own voice heard, so a reader someday will sink into my stories, too.