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.
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