Summer is short in the Colorado foothills. Camping and gardening have taken up the spare moments in my busy days. I have been reading short stories, but no novels. I decided to remedy that with a trip to the library. After diving into two entertaining books, I realized they offer a nice comparison of voice.
One definition of voice is: Voice shows whose eyes readers see the narrative through that gives a personality to a literary piece. (From the website Literary Devices.) A more detailed explanation can be found on The Balance, where voice is defined as both the author's writing style, and the character's speech and thought patterns.
Voice is often influenced, even dictated, by the genre of a work. The tone of a thriller is drastically different from a cozy murder mystery. A literary novel reads differently than a noir detective novel. Readers gravitate toward the voice they prefer.
I picked two novels randomly, by authors I have read and enjoyed. I was seeking pure entertainment, but then my writer's compulsion to analyse kicked in. How do their voices compare?
Checked Out, by Elaine Viets, is # 14 in the Dead End Job series. Category - amateur sleuth. Humorous.
Iron Lake, by William Kent Krueger is # 1 in the Cork O'Connor series. Category - thriller.
Let's peek at the opening lines.
Checked Out: "I need your help," Elizabeth Cateman Kingsley said. "My late father misplaced a million dollars in a library book. I want it back."
Helen Hawthorne caught herself before she said, "You're joking." Private eyes were supposed to be cool.
Right away, the reader knows the narrator has a humorous outlook on her profession. There is a mystery to be solved, but there will be laughs along the way. The tone of the novel, like the opening lines, is conversational.
Iron Lake: Cork O'Connor first heard the story of the Windigo in the fall of 1965 when he hunted the big bear with Sam Winter Moon. He was fourteen and his father was dead a year.
The opening of Iron Lake is somber. The use of a prologue eases the reader into the story, presenting backstory that is relevant to the present day action. This is the first time Cork hears the story of the Windigo, setting up a reader expectation to learn more.
Viets introduces the main plot in her story in the first three sentences, as we dive right into the mystery of the lost million dollars. Krueger keeps the reader waiting for a few more pages.
Notice also the difference in sentence length. Iron Lake begins with a 24 word sentence. Checked Out opens with "I need your help." Both continue in this same vein - Krueger's novel with lengthier sentences, and Viets's with shorter. This simple choice contributes to voice. One is more conversational, the other more contemplative. Neither is superior to the other - it's a matter of the author setting the correct tone for his or her story.
Two different novels, two different voices. We've taken a look at voice expressed in opening lines and sentence length. Next week, let's compare scenery description. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy my homework.
This week, I review two short stories from different magazines with similar themes revolving around unrequited love.
First up is a story from Mystery Weekly Magazine. Polly, by Antony Mann, is a creepy little tale. Just how far will Allan go to get a date with a coworker? I enjoy unreliable narrator stories, and I would place Allan firmly in that category. There is a lot more going on, while he presents himself to the reader as a determined suitor. Questions remain at the end of the story which will keep you wondering about the eventual fate of Polly and Allan.
The second story is in the May/June Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Hatcheck, by Steve Lindley, has two threads going simultaneously. The story opens with a lengthy discussion of the annoying habits of "seasoned citizens," as a geezer takes a seat at the bar. I was laughing out loud at Lindley's descriptions, while also catching the poignancy of aging in a fast-paced world.
One annoyance is the old man's hat, sitting on the bar, in the way. Brad the bartender offers to take it to the hatcheck. Trudy is the ancient hatcheck girl in the neighborhood bar. The old man opens up to Brad a bit, engaging him in the kind of conversation Brad typically avoids. As this old man's tale unfolds, it is obvious Brad has a crush on a cocktail server - the second thread in the story.
Brad's dim view of old people makes him blind to their potentially passionate pasts. The ending of the story takes him by surprise. Weaving two plot threads in the space of a short story is difficult. Lindley pulls it off, and gives the reader a shocker of an ending.
Two different stories, two different magazines, both well worth reading.
My article on the intense April 27 Donald Maass workshop appears on the Pikes Peak Writers blog today. I enjoyed a day learning about emotion in writing at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference Thursday prequel.
According to Donald Maass, New York agent and author of writing how-to books that push writers to new levels: "Your protagonist is your vengeance. Let him loose."
You can read the article here.
First up, in Kings River Life I read Pop Played the Ponies, by Margaret Mendel. This short story is mostly about the loss of the protagonist's father, but takes an interesting turn with the discovery of her father's secret life. This is not, strictly speaking, a mystery story. There are no startling revelations. It is a nice read about a daughter coming to terms with her father's hidden passion, horse racing.
The second story is Mrs Walker and the Lady in the Laundry, by Katie Ginger, in Mystery Weekly Magazine. The annoyingly prim and proper Mrs. Walker has her rigid routine disrupted by the discovery of a body on her backyard clothes line.
A traditional mystery set in a small British village, my favorite aspect of the story was seeing Mrs. Walker soften her self-righteous attitude. I really didn't like her much at the beginning of the mystery. Her improved opinion of certain characters by the end improved my opinion of Mrs. Walker.
This was a fast moving and entertaining read. I thought I had figured out the whodunit before the end, but kept reading to make sure. I also enjoyed the characters, especially James Dixon.
The photo is of a friend's neighborhood in the Colorado mountains. Beth invited her old critique group partners for a weekend writing retreat. While on a walk, we saw a bald eagle.
The eagle soared high in the sky. We were in too much awe to snap a photo, and besides, it would have been an indistinguishable speck. You'll have to take my word for it - three witnesses saw an eagle.
Which brings me to Sasquatch. I recently saw a ridiculous Sasquatch hunting television program. The men seeking the creature reminded me of the Three Stooges. My husband and I yelled at the TV, "Where are the game cameras?" They kept hearing noises and seeing evidence of Sasquatch, but never captured a photo. A couple well-placed game cameras could have solved the whole mystery.
Which brings me to murder. Writers are told to show, don't tell. What if you're writing a cozy mystery? You don't show the grisly details of the murder. If you are Jeffery Deaver, the details are part of the story. The advice to show, don't tell does not apply to every aspect of every story.
The lesson of my blog? If you want a photo of a bald eagle, carry a good camera and a telephoto lens. If you want a photo of Sasquatch, set up some strategically placed game cameras. If you want to write a good story? Know your genre. What are the expectations for your thriller, cozy, or police procedural? That will determine the details of importance to your reader.
I read two stories in the e-zine Mysterical-E this week. Death by Discussion by Lyn Fraser caught my attention with the opening. Death by sofa bed. Many of us have suffered an uncomfortable night on a lumpy fold-out mattress. This one proves deadly for the unfortunate Raymond.
The premise is a book club arranging to have a murder mystery weekend at a cabin. The story opens with the discovery of the murder victim, then goes back in time to the formation of the group, and the actions that bring them to the present moment.
Everyone has a motive to kill Raymond. When a snowstorm traps the participants in the cabin, the story becomes a locked room situation. A fun traditional mystery, Death by Discussion invites the reader to puzzle out the clues to figure out who murdered Raymond in the sofa bed.
The second story was Investment Opportunities by Sophia-Karin Psarras. Darker in tone, there were layers to the story that unfolded gradually. Recently widowed Joe Lookly, a police officer, investigates the death of an investment company sales manager. As the trail leads in an unexpected direction, Lookly connects the threads to his wife's recent death.
For a short story, there is a lot going on, but the author does not lose focus. Sections of dialogue and spare descriptions keep the action moving. The reader learns a lot about Joe Lookly. I found myself not just wanting him to solve the mystery, but also to find peace about his wife's death.
It's been a while since I read Mysterical-E. I'll be checking in on the magazine more often.
My blogging consistency has slipped as summer rapidly approaches. I recently took stock of my writing progress, and noted that for me, creativity and publication seem to run in seasons and cycles. In February, I only logged twenty hours creative writing time, while in April, I logged over fifty hours. But I haven't been able to maintain the pace.
I am not a fan of excuses, but I had to consider, what are the events that drag me away from my laptop?
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