Voice

Rereading Neil Gaiman in preparation for a class I’m teaching this summer, I’m reminded of the importance of voice in fiction. Read him aloud—the prose sings. During the process of writing and rewriting, I often read aloud, and before a piece is done—poem, novel, short story, doesn’t matter—I print it up and read it through as if for a public reading. Anything I stumble over or doesn’t sound right, I revise until the voice is right. Ideally each piece should have its own distinctive voice, inseparable from the story being told. A story’s not just words on a page, pixels on a screen, it’s someone speaking, inviting others to listen.

3 thoughts on “Voice

  1. I was just talking about this with my friend Sadie not too long ago when I talking about how I pick out books to read. I’ll find a spot in the bookstore without a lot of people around and open to a random page and read it out loud. If it catches me, then I’ll generally buy it. But if it’s flat, then I know it won’t grab me. You’re right though, Gaiman’s prose is wonderful to read aloud. Which is why I almost always buy his audiobooks as well as his books.

    ps. Did I ever send you the photo of Sadie (the former star Academic of the VCU English Department) reading Circuit of Heaven in Scotland? I kept it as blackmail. I think it was the first bit of science fiction she’d ever read (she actually put Nabokov aside to read it!). She loved it. As did I. And we were both terribly amused by the inclusion of Aimee Mann (as we had been listening to her almost non-stop before I had even picked the book up.

  2. What a splendid way to select a book. When I worked in a used bookshop, we had a customer who always read the last couple of pages—not wanting any unhappy endings.

    You did send me the photo. I’m not sure how I feel about being the basis for blackmail!

  3. Having Sadie read and enjoy something that isn’t DeLillo or Nabokov is a terribly terribly hard thing to do. I teased her about the blackmail thing because at the time she was the star academic (and would routinely chastise me about not being enough of a pretentious lit person), everyone was trying to ship her off to Stanford, Columbia or Berkeley as the bright shining future of high pretension and academic excellence. Hell, they still talk about her as their darling future Harold Bloom. I think that might have been the last bit of “genre” fiction she ever read. She even liked it better than Coraline.

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