The Voice Of The Story

A good story demands its own voice. No two stories you write will sound alike. Each has its own characters, setting, atmosphere, and series of events. Therefore it requires its own system of telling, a voice that will capitalize on the unmatched opportunities offered by these ingredients placed in this configuration. Of course you would modify your voice to suit the genre of story you're writing, whether it's mainstream, mystery, science fiction, or romance, whether it's a humorous tale or a serious one. Even stories that are similar on the surface, though, may inspire different choices about certain qualities of narrative voice.

The most significant factor in choosing a voice is your protagonist. In telling the story you adjust the voice of the story in one of three ways:

• To accentuate the main character's voice. In a first person story or a third person story told from the protagonist's point of view, her voice is the story voice. You present the story in her language and style. Doing this reinforces the intimacy between the character and the readers.

• To contrast with the main character's voice. Sometimes the most effective way to characterize the protagonist, or to offer your desired perspective on her and the events in which she plays a role, is to use a voice that is pointedly dissimilar from hers. You can do this from a third person omniscient point of view, but it is also a good reason for assigning the job of narrator to some character other than the protagonist.

• To make your presentation seem objective. Describing the events in a neutral voice allows readers to draw their own conclusions about the protagonist and the story—seemingly without your guidance, even though you are there behind the scenes throughout the story, directing our response. In Hunters in the Snow, Tobias Wolff describes three buddies who are out for a day of winter hunting when something goes terribly wrong. We never really hear the hunters' thoughts or get inside their heads. Instead we are shown what transpires and allowed to form our own opinions. The story voice is consistently impartial and nonjudgmental; the reader's reaction, though, is strong.

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