VOICE HOOKS READERS INTO YOUR WORLD

ImageA colleague wrote me that he was giving up; the publishing industry was too exacting nowadays. We compared stories about how we got started.  He said that his first attempts at  co-authoring were published immediately and he’d sent in a hand-written manuscript. 

I said that my first piece was published by sending a yoga handout I’d written to a trade magazine. I just tossed it into an envelope and mailed it to their address.  (That began a 2-decade-long business relationship. They published some quite daring things I’d written/experienced, like pieces about massage in Swayambuth, Nepal done by native barbers in quite insanitary conditions; they published many of my spiritual health/ travel pieces, from India, Taiwan and Japan, too.)

The happy, breezy voice in those pieces of his and mine did contain something crucial, though:  the voice of authority.*  Voice is important for readers. Through voice, they can decide if you know what you’re talking about (especially in non-fiction, like I used to write). In your made-up pieces, voice tips readers off immediately. It describes the world they’ve just dropped into, and this voice can lure them into staying.

The opposite to the ‘voice of authority’ is the voice in John Varley’s Beatnik Bayou. In fact, this voice pervades the entire science fiction story beautifully. Even the sex is flaccid and hopeless. We hear the characters tell us, from the first paragraph, that they’re living on borrowed time; this is likely enough the last time they’ll be free.

Some of the characters (like the teachers) are so trapped that they don’t even know they’re not free.  Everything about the actors is a clue to understanding the world and the story.  Their posture, the way they move and sit and stand, what they do in places where there are choices.

I simply hate that attitude of no hope so I’ve been mystified about why the story hooked me so deeply.  I’ve thought about it quite a bit. I’d say that the story’s voice hypnotized me.

More science fiction with similarly constructed totalitarian worlds: Fahrenheit 451 and When the Sleeper Wakes. But both authors (Ray Bradbury and H.G. Wells) created dynamic, feisty heroes.  Bradbury’s narration and hero in Fahrenheit 451 don’t express themselves with hopelessness. It’s more that events corner the hero and he must decide if he’ll remain a tool.

The hero in When the Sleeper Wakes is also a fighter. He has to develop inner strength in order to get through the bizarre circumstances he wakes up to – twice. 

Now you and your short story, novella, etc.: please think of your creation’s voice. Its mood and where it’s going. If you can, look at John Varley’s Beatnik Bayou.  These characters don’t preach, but they express the world he built. And that world is frankly what the reader’s supposed to think about. That kind of life. The players’ movements, posture, actions all feed into that.

I found it on the Net; it’s also in many hard copy short story collections.

Thanks again for the supportive world you’ve built for me and other writers.

Best writing! Great travels! Mary Ann in Thailand 

 * ‘the voice of authority’ comes from Middlemarch by George Eliot. The photo is of the Himalaya near Gamru, India.

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