On Writing: Are your stories told with a distinctive voice?


Most writers spend time creating characters and inventing plots and don’t pay nearly enough attention to the voice that tells the story.

I’m paraphrasing Stephen King, who had once said, “Readers enjoy a great story, but they fall in love with a voice.”

His words struck a nerve.

Maybe, as writers, that’s the only thing new we have to offer.

A voice.

A different voice.

A distinctive voice.

A voice you don’t hear every day.

Maybe that’s what makes one book so different from the other.

There are only so many genres.

There are only so many stories.

There are only so many plots.

But all writers have their own individual styles, their own personal ways to tell a story.

That’s voice.

Caleb Pirtle

Take a look at Ernest Hemingway’s voice. The Nation described it as ”a clear, vibrant, low tenor, unexpectedly youthful, almost boyish. It reminds one of a recurring theme in the fiction, that of age reaching back toward youth.” And Ford Maddox, writing in The Transatlantic Review, said, “Hemingway’s words strike you, each one, as if they were pebbles fetched fresh from a brook. They live and shine, each in its place.”

William Faulkner brought an entirely new voice to the literary scene. One reviewer, in fact, even gave him credit for re-inventing the novel. The Voice of America reported. “After Faulkner, few northerners were brave enough to write about a South they did not know. And no serious Southern writer was willing to describe a South that did not exist.”.

When developing a novel, I sometimes think that most writers – myself included – spend too much of their time creating characters, inventing plots, thinking up storylines, devising twists and turns and subplots, and they don’t pay nearly enough attention at all to the voice that tells the story.

But that’s what sets one novel apart from the next one.

Voice is the reason why we remember one novel and forget another.

In Back Side of a Blue Moon, I worked hard to develop a distinctive voice for a novel set in East Texas during the midst of the Great Depression. Doc was a con man on the run. So many were trying to catch him. He was living on borrowed time.

I wrote:

But Doc did see the thirteenth chapter of Revelation stuffed in the double barrels of a shotgun that Brother Shiloh Evans pulled out of the floorboard of his Ford truck.  He that killed by the sword would be killed by the sword. Waskom knew Doc had never killed anybody, but he didn’t think Brother Shiloh was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

It was as dark as the inside of a sinner’s heart outside the church, but the lights were blazing inside, and the flickering candles beside the altar kept time with the thirty-second verse of Just As I Am. A gentle wind blew from out of the oaks and drifted across the front steps of the clapboard sanctuary. 

Some sang.

Some prayed.

The Widow Agnes Abernathy lifted her eyes to Heaven and whispered, “May the Good Lord have Mercy.”

“On Doc?”

“On us all.”

“Doc’s the one dying.”

“His sin is on us all.”

I may not have succeeded.

But I tried.

Different is always better.

I’ve read far too many books written by different authors but all using the same voice. It’s the one their English teachers gave them when they wrote themes. The sentences have subjects and verbs and adjectives and adverbs. And obligatory transitional phrases are thrown in to move from one paragraph or one scene to the next.

But where is the voice?

If you don’t have a voice, you don’t have a story.

If you don’t have a story, you don’t have a novel.

If you don’t have a novel, why bother writing at all?

Please click HERE to find Back Side of a Blue Moon on Amazon.

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