What is voice in a story?
Voice is the dominant leg of the tripod of storytelling. It could be the voice of the narrator, the voice of the main character or the voice of the story itself.
The enchantment, the greatest of storytellers had been able to induce upon the masses that crowded around them, in ancient days for the taste of the fantastic, who always stood fascinated, was through their voice. The present writers can learn a thing or two from the masters of the past. The voice of the story is a direct copying of the exalted tradition of storytellers—the audible sound through which the story travels.
However, on paying closer attention, you can hear an inner voice through the words of the person telling you the story. This voice guides you through the story, gives you gooseflesh and a broken heart along with the twists in the destiny of characters.
Where does this voice come from?
It depends on how you want your story to be told. In David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, for example, David Copperfield’s voice receives us into the story and guides us. However, critics have also mentioned the voice of David Copperfield, the destined protagonist of the classic has a voice not much distinct from his author’s. Look at the scenes, in which David portrays the city of London, critics say, and now look at Charles Dickens’ other works, in which he had described his favorite city. There are similarities, of course. This similarity or even exchange of voices between the speaker of the story and the author himself is a great idea.
In the short story, The Big Driver, by Stephen King, you don’t see the speaker within the story, do you? Nevertheless, you hear him or her. Who is that? You may wonder. Is it Mr. King himself? Probably, or maybe not. But the voice guides you any way, where it wants to take you. Once you lose your clutches upon your physical reality, much like during a session of hypnosis, the story takes over, and you undergo the emotional and intellectual and whatever other dimensions the author wants you to. For a reader, this moment is the magic moment, when the reader and the story becomes one.
In Sydney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Me, Mr. Sheldon himself undertakes the mission of telling his story. Did you know, The Other Side of Me is autobiographical? This gives it more scope for the “I” or the “me” or the “my” business. Here Mr. Sheldon, tells us his story in first person.
In Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie, however, turns himself into a character. Joseph Anton is a memoir about his years under the terrifying threat of the fatwa. The story is about Salman and is in second person masculine, but the narrator’s voice is unmistakably Salman Rushdie’s.
These are the four different patterns in which the voice can be heard in a story, long or short.
Why don’t you take a look at all those stories that still live in your memory? Now listen carefully. It’s wonderful!
Next: What is Terrain, the second leg of the tripod of storytelling?
Anu Lal is the author of the up-coming collection of short stories Wall of Colors and Other Stories. He lives in Kerala, South India. He blogs at The Indian Commentator
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