86. Narrative Voice

Have you ever heard a recording of your own voice? Chances are that you cringed, twitched, switched off the playback in a panicked frenzy, or a combination of any of the aforementioned.

“That doesn’t sound like me at all!” You would say.

“What are you talking about, man? That’s totally what you sound like,” your friends would say.

And then you would spend the rest of the day being self-conscious about how you sound. That’s alright – we’ve all been there. I heard my own voice in a recording when I was an aspiring singer at 14; and that was one of the first times I realized that I probably am not meant to sing as a career.

See, that’s why I love writing – how the words appear on my screen is exactly how it would appear on yours. The voice in your head may sound a little different from the voice in my head, but that’s alright, because that little reading voice in our heads are usually pleasant enough. Plus, your little voice in your head isn’t mine – I don’t have to take responsibility for how it sounds.

There is, too, a voice related to writing. All the articles and books I’ve read on the subject of fiction writing pretty much says the same thing: you have a killer concept, a solid plot, intriguing characters, and amazing story – but at the end of the day, the reason why people would want to buy your books is because of your voice.

Your narrative voice, to be exact.

Everyone has a voice. Everyone has a narrative voice. They all have their unique ways of stringing their words together, their unique choice of words, the way they organize their thoughts, and the way they punctuate those thoughts. It’s a little bit more like singing than speaking, really – because you only really find your voice after you’ve been doing it for a little while. People will spend money to hear your voice; and some other people make good living out of doing different voices – just ask Mr. MacFarlane.

I haven’t been writing for nearly as long as a lot of writers out there, but I’ve written enough to have a sort of voice that I fall back into by default. It’s this stuffy, conversational tone with the occasional jargon thrown in so I can sound smart. When it comes to writing fiction, however, I try – as voice actors do – to switch into a voice that would be suitable for the tone of the story that I’m attempting to tell.

(see the differences in voices between the excerpt in Cyberpunk!; Constellations; and Explorer)

I’ve just started work on the crime novel yesterday, just to get a few words in so that I can get this whole writing process rolling along. You know what I found?

I found that I’ve developed a certain narrative voice in the process of writing Johann’s Fantastic Adventures Through Time, and it’s hard to shake off. Here I am, trying to jump right back into the gritty world of deceit and murder, and the words that come spilling out sound like they came right out of an Enid Blyton book.

Here’s a thought: perhaps finding the voice for a story is an essential part of the storytelling process. Just like outlining, drafting, mind-mapping – maybe crafting the narrative voice for the story is also all part of the pre-writing process (which I hadn’t done a lot, due to the time constraints).

This will not do. This will not do at all. I’ve got to get me some grit in my narrative voice.

Unless I want my cop’s come clop-clop-clopping up the stairs in his heavy boots.


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