by Kathleen Kaska (Fifth Saturday Blogger)
It might be a scream, a whisper, an insult, or a humorous comment. It’s what causes me to listen and understand the emotions it needs to convey.
It’s a writer’s voice.
If I can’t hear it, chances are I’m not going to like the book.
I recently attended a writers conference and listened to a publisher explain her definition of voice. It rang true and clear, so I decided to share my thoughts on this element of writing that is often a challenge to define.
When I began studying the craft of writing in the early ‘90s, my focus was on plot mainly because I hadn’t a clue how to construct one. I hadn’t given much thought to voice until I picked up a novel by an author I’d never read before. It was his fourth one and it had landed him on the bestseller list. I’d heard so much about the book, I was prepared not to like it. Oh me of little faith. At first, I thought it was the story and characters that grabbed me and whirled me along for the more than four hundred pages. When I finished the book, I rushed out and bought his first three. I struggled through each one and only completed them because I was curious to learn how this author developed his craft. Then I realized that it was his voice that captured my interest in novel four. It was also clear to me that I was unable to hear that voice in his first three novels. Maybe he was still struggling to find it. Who knows? Since then, I’ve read everything the author has written and he’s now one of my favorite contemporary writers.
So, how do you define voice? What I gleaned from the publisher’s talk was that voice is the emotional thread that connects the writer to the reader. It’s the writer’s unique style of expression, which adds a personal element to the story that character, plot, and setting can’t do alone. Every book I keep has earned its place on my bookshelf because the writer has connected with me on a deep level. Without that connection, even if I finished and enjoyed the story, that book will mostly likely end up in my giveaway box and I will probably not wait in anticipation of the writer’s next one.
Think about Harper Lee’s voice in To Kill a Mockingbird. Her method and style of telling a story of social injustice and prejudice by having Atticus Finch fail to save the innocent Tom Robinson was so much more powerful than finding him innocent and allowing him to go free. Who doesn’t relate to some sort of injustice inflected upon them? Who hasn’t felt that pain and learned from it? That was the connection for me. I learned something by listening to Lee’s voice.
Leave a comment and let me know how a certain writer’s voice connected with you.
Kathleen Kaska is a writer of mysteries, nonfiction, travel articles, and stage plays. When she is not writing, she spends much of her time with her husband traveling the backroads and byways around the country, looking for new venues for her mysteries and bird watching along the Texas coast and beyond. Her third Sydney Lockhart mystery, Murder at the Galvez (LL-Publications), was released in December. It was her passion for birds that led to the publication The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story (University Press of Florida).