Writing with voice can be one of the most difficult things about writing. It’s how you–the author–express yourself within the story. Voice can be found in the kind of comparisons you make. For example, if you enjoy baking, your metaphors/similes may revolve around sweets. She was as sweet as a summer cherry. His eyes were rich as dark chocolate. It captures your sense of humor, your age, outlook, and personal influences. The reader can tell a lot about you by your writing voice.
Now, I separate voice from a character’s narration. If you have some omniscient person narrating the story, that is not you putting yourself on the page. For me, the author’s voice should be seamlessly woven throughout the novel. I don’t want to be distracted from the story by incessant interruption–thus leading me to the inspiration for this blog post, the book: Peter Pan.
As the mother of a toddler, I have been bombarded with Disney’s never-ending stream of Neverland shows. Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Tinkerbell being most prominent. I’ve seen the Disney version of Peter Pan and we own the live-action, musical starring Mary Martin from the 1960’s. My daughter even owns Jake Legos. I think it’s fair to say that my interest in the original text has been piqued.
I recently picked up a copy of Peter Pan at Barnes and Noble. While the novel is witty, J.M. Barrie’s voice is so distracting that I’m constantly pulled out of the story and reminded that I’m holding a book. Instead of getting lost in the fantastical world of Neverland, his little quips break the magic. I’ll give you an example. On page 45 we’ve just been introduced to Captain Hook. Barrie goes into great detail concerning his clothes and mannerisms. Hook seems a most intriguing character, then Barrie bumbles into this horrible segment, breaking the spell.
“Let us now kill a pirate, to show Hook’s method. Skylights will do. As they pass, Skylights lurches clumsily against him (Hook), ruffling his lace collar; the hook shoots forth, there is a tearing sound and one screech, then the body is kicked aside, and the pirates pass on. He has not even taken the cigar from his mouth.”
“Such is the terrible man against whom Peter Pan is pitted. Which will win?”
I’m just gagging at the rhetorical question! And that’s not even the first one. There have been several throughout. I want desperately to enjoy this book, but the author’s constant intrusion makes it impossible for me to lose myself. And that’s why I read. If I wanted a constant reminder that it’s not real, I’d watch a soap opera.
There are other books, such as Good Omens, that I haven’t been able to finish because I find the author as intrusive as any nosy neighbor or butt-in. Luckily, Peter Pan is not a long story, so finishing it shouldn’t be a problem.
An author’s voice should compliment the narrative, add spice and character, but not overwhelm the text. I’m sure we all have examples we like, I’ll post an excerpt from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as one of mine.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
“However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.”
For me this contains clever humor leading directly to the arrival of Mr. Bingley, and in no way distracts from the story.
Has anyone else had a similar experience with voice, or just plain disagrees with me? I’d love to see some great examples of voice, so feel free to post excerpts in the comments below! Let’s get a conversation going!