A Tale of Two Voices

Have you ever read something that, by all accounts, you should like, but which you don’t?  Or something that you should probably despise but which you find yourself unintentionally enjoying?  There are many reasons why situations like these occur…but one explanation is that, for whatever reason, the voice of a certain story speaks to you, or perhaps drives you away with a ten foot poll.

Voice is one of those things that can make or break a story, and it is something definitely recognized by publishers and agents, as well as readers.  For aspiring writers, it is certainly not uncommon to get a response from an agent that cites the “voice” as a reason to reject a query, or to ask for more.

But what is voice?  This is such a tricky thing for writers.  It is the personality of the story, the flow of the narrative and the match between the narrative and the character’s telling of events.  Sometimes voice is over is the top, while other times it can be very soft and muted.  And sometimes, it can completely change a story depending on its angle. To tell the truth, I’m still not really sure *exactly* what constitutes voice…I think it means slightly different things for different writers, readers, agents, etc.

But voice can have a big impact on the way you read a story. Recently, I read two novels back-to-back which were, in my opinion, pretty much the exact same story.  The books were Confessions of a Not It Girl by Melissa Kantor, and Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison.

Both of these stories are told from the point of view of a decidedly not popular or chic teenage girl.  This girl likes a boy in the beginning of the story, and (spoiler alert) ends up getting with said boy at the very end of the story.  Girl has a best friend who she fights with at some point in the tale (over best friend’s boy situation). The MC of each story has to deal with uncool parents, and annoying bitch-type enemy-girls.  Each story involves, at some point, a diary, a cat, the French language, and unwanted boy attention.

Very similar stories.  And yet, one of the two I couldn’t stand, and had to force my way through, and the other I quite enjoyed reading. Why? There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think the voice of the story, the MC’s personality and the way scenes were written, made the difference for me. Some examples:

*In story 1, the MC was (I believe) 17.

In story 2, the MC was 14. I found that I could accept that the 14-year-old was behaving the way she was, while I found the 17-year-old doing the same things to be very immature and annoying.

*In story 1, the MC complained constantly about her parents, and about the only time she ever realized that her parents were okay was when her mother decided to buy her a dress.

In story 2, the MC complained constantly about her parents, but at times made comments like ‘and then dad (who was away from home) got all emotional about how he missed us here. And then I got all emotional, too. Stupid parents.’ …things that showed the MC did love her parents, and missed her father while he was away, even if she did complain about them.

*In story 1, the MC is always talking about drinking and smoking, including using fake IDs to get into classy bars to have martinis and wine and stuff…I know teens drink, but A. I never did, so I find it hard to connect with characters who do, and B. I don’t think I knew a single kid in high school who drank martinis and wine. I’m sure there are some teens that do somewhere, but I never knew any.

In story 2, the MC didn’t drink (to my memory…it has been a bit since I read the story), so I found her easier to connect with

*In story 1, the MC was all shocked that her 18-year-old friend was contemplating having sex for the first time. Granted, the act was going to be had with an older man (in his twenties), but I still found it unbelievable that these partying, drinking, going to fancy bars and always talking about boys teens would be that surprised about the thought of sex at the age of 18. Again, I’m sure there are teens like that out there…but I didn’t buy it.

In story 2, the MC described the boy she liked as a “Sex God” the very first time she saw him. The teens don’t actively participate in sex in the story, but they discuss it more openly, which I like in teen stories.

As I’m sure you can see, a lot of the things that I really disliked about story 1 are things that are solely to my taste. I’m sure other people would totally connect with the MC and her experiences, just as I’m sure some people would detest story 2. For me, it was totally the voice…the writing was fine in each story, and the plot was basically the same. But the voice, the personality of the MC and the narration of the story completely changed my opinion from one tale to the next.

So how about you. Have you had any experiences like these solely because of the voice of a story? 

One Response so far.

  1. E.D. says:
    Yes, quite often actually (but of course cannot think of one single instance now). But you are absolutely right – the voice can make or break our connection to the novel.

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