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VOICE AND PROSE INTERPRETATION

Narrative voice. You know it when you hear it. From the first line of a story, narrative voice speaks like a best friend to a reader and says "Come with me on this journey. You know me. You can trust me, or maybe you can't but you're too seduced to let go."

Much seminaring at writers' conferences is spent on voice. Personally, I've got pages of notes on what is voice, how to find voice, and how to keep voice. I've had fellow writers look at me and say, "I hear you have voice, what exactly is it?" In the past, I've given my best English teacher answer: "Voice is the writing style which conveys the character and personality of a story's narrator." Clear as mud, right?

Well, thanks to some awesome teens in my home state of Texas I have a brand new definition of voice. Over the past several months, I've been contacted by teachers, librarians, and teens who have selected THE SWEETHEART OF PROSPER COUNTY as their reading for our state's UIL Prose Interpretation. I am so humbled and honored by this. I mean, real teens reading my words aloud for a competition! Even better, they are reading from all parts of the book, not just the opening -- some are even reading the dialogue of characters like Lafitte Boudreaux and Lewis Fortenberry. Also, the selection must "come alive" when read aloud.

So here's my new definition: Voice is the writing style which allows for competitive interpretive prose reading.

I've always read my books aloud during the writing process. I believe a writer should honor what he or she puts on the page by giving it audible voice. And folks, when you're reading aloud and the writing goes flat, you'll hear it. You'll know it. And you'll change it thus making the narrative stronger. Furthermore, I can't imagine writing a scene with dialogue and not reading it aloud.

Voice matters. If you're wondering what voice is or how you find it, give your words the sound they deserve and ask the question: Would this narrative voice (or dialogue) stand out in competitive prose interpretation?

Best wishes to all the teens, teachers, and librarians as you head into UIL competition. SWEETHEART represent!

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