Listen the the Voices

All books have got their own voice. It’s partly the voices of the characters – especially if they’re the narrators – but it’s the author’s voice too. If you’re writing a story, listen to the voice you use. Read your story out loud to yourself (it seems like a funny thing to do, but it really helps!)

Here are a few opening paragraphs from different books – listen to the voices!

My name is Verity Sparks, and I’ve got itchy fingers. The Professor calls it teleagtivism. Sounds like a disease, doesn’t it? But it’s not. It’s more like a talent. A gift. I’ve always had it, but I didn’t know I had it until the summer of 1878. It happened the day I finished the yellow hat.


The hat was mostly feathers, with one poor little bird left whole and stuck onto the brim.
“Like a dead duck on a plate, ain’t it?” I said as I held it up.

That’s from The Truth About Verity Sparks.  Did you notice how Verity seems to be speaking?  I was trying to make it seem as if she was talking straight to you, the reader. Verity is a very straightforward girl, so that’s how I wanted her to come across. And at the start of the story, she’s not very well educated – that’s why she says ‘ain’t’ instead of isn’t.

Here’s another opening.

Marlie and I lived at the Overhang, near the place where three roads met. One road went west to the Badlands. No one ever passed that way. It was the same with the road to the east – if you followed it you’d end up in the marshes, which stretched forever. Nobody went in that direction, and you’d never expect to see anyone coming from there. Only the road from Skerrick was used, and that was the one I watched from high up on my ledge.

“Peat, get down! You won’t make her come any faster by looking!”

from Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt. It’s a new book, published just this year by Allen&Unwin. In this opening, Julie Hunt is setting the scene, and creating a sense of mystery. Why is Peat watching the road? You’ll just have to read on.

And this last piece is from an old favourite of mine, Smith by Leon Garfield. It was first published in 1966, so you might not be able to get hold of it.

My father is put in the stocks again! Oh! The injustice of it! My father is a genius – as are all of we Treets. A grand man, as great in mind as he is in body, for he’s a large man who bears himself with more dignity than all the Justices in Kent put together. Except when the Stranger calls: and then his spirit seems to flicker and sink somewhat…as if the Stranger was something dark and devilish, and there was an unwholesome bargain eating away at my father’s soul…

Can you tell that the book is set in past times by the “voice”? You might have to look up “the stocks” – a hint; they were used as a punishment! The writer here tells us there’s a mystery from very first paragraph! Who is the Stranger? And why does he come to visit Mr Treet?

Next time, I’ll post a little bit about how I write, and how important my dog is to my writing routine.

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