What sets a writer apart from the crowd?
April 30, 2016
THE NEWS was good.
Paul Harvey said it was.
He made us smile.
The news was bad.
I could hear it in the words.
Walter Cronkite could chill us to the bone.
What someone says may not be that important.
How they say it is unforgettable.
How they say it is all that matters.
It’s always the voice that we remember
In my days of long ago, there were two voices that I couldn’t wait to hear at the end of the day.
One belonged to Walter Cronkite.
We would gather in front of the television set, watch the images flicker in black and white, wrap our minds around the six o’clock news, and listen to Walter Cronkite tell us: And that’s the way it is.
The voice was distinctive.
It was different.
It rang with authority.
We heard the news.
We believed it.
We trusted it.
We knew that’s the way it was.
No one doubted it, especially when Cronkite offered up such nuggets as:
There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free, or you are not free.
Or, Objective journalism and an opinion column are about a similar as the Bible and Playboy Magazine.
The other voice I won’t forget belonged to Paul Harvey.
He was a self-styled newsman who didn’t dabble in hard news.
He preferred catch phrase like:
In times like these, it helps to remember that there have always been times like these.
Or, if pro is the opposite of progress, then what is the opposite of “progress.”
Think about it.
Paul Harvey would spin a yarn with a surprise ending and tell us: Now you know the rest of the story.
We heard it.
We believed it.
We trusted it.
We now knew both the story told and the story that had never been told.
The New York Times said that Paul Harvey personalized radio news with his right-wing opinions, but laced them with his own trademarks: a hypnotic timbre, extended pauses for effect, heart-warming tales of average American and today’s observations that evoked his heartland, family values, and the old-fashioned plain talk one heard around he dinner table on Sunday.
He, like Cronkite, had the voice that made a story worth listening to whether the story was any good or not.
Much the same can be said about writing.
When it’s all said and done, it’s not the story that counts.
It’s not the characters.
It’s not the plot.
It’s the voice.
We all tell the same stories about love and hate, greed and revenge, ambition and jealousy.
They bleed with mystery.
They ‘re breathless with romance.
They are stories about times both future and past.
Some even involve worlds that don’t exist and will never exist anywhere except on the pages of a book.
And there is only one thing that can make a novel different and give it a cadence and a rhythm all its own.
That’s the voice. .
You read: Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic. The second is intimate. The third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off.
And you know it’s Raymond Chandler.
Pure and Simple.
You read: When you die, it’s the same as if everybody else did, too. … War was always there. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting the ultimate practitioner.
And you know the writer must be Cormac McCarthy.
It has to be.
No one else writes that way or has the talent to write that way.
You read: Let me tell you about love, that silly word you believe is about whether you like somebody or whether somebody likes you or whether you can put up with somebody in order to get something or someplace you want or you believe it has to do with how your body responds to another body like robins or bison or maybe you believe love is how forces or nature or luck is benign to you in particular not maiming or killing you but if so doing it for your own good. Love is none of that.
And you know those words came straight from Toni Morrison.
She has a style and her voice has a depth that no one else has reached.
What makes a book good, perhaps, is the plot.
What makes it unforgettable, perhaps, are the characters.
What makes readers coming back for your next book and then the next is the voice of the story.
The voice is your signature.
It is as distinctive as a fingerprint.
It’s what sets you apart from the crowd.
And keeps you there.