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The Basics: Voice,
by Sandy Tritt
Besides point of view, intimacy and
voice also affect how close the reader feels to the story and the
characters. Intimacy is how close we are to the action and to the
character’s thoughts and emotions. Like a video camera, we can zoom in
and out, getting close (into a character’s head) when we need to and
then back off when things get too hot or when we need a broader
Voice is the way in which the
narrator talks —it can be proper and formal, conversational, or even
illiterate. To be effective, it must be natural and unique, just like
each person’s voice. I’ve heard it said that an author’s voice is one of
the most difficult things to develop. And that may be true. When we
first begin putting words on paper, we “try out” different voices,
trying to find the one that suits us. Of course, each story can have a
different voice and still be the author’s. The more we write, the more
comfortable we become with our voice and the different inflections that
it can create.
Likewise, the tense chosen affects
the power of the story. We most often see past tense (he was) used in
fiction, although present (he is) can be effectively used. Past perfect
(he had been) and future perfect (he will be) should be saved for
flashbacks and special effects. It is extremely important to maintain
tense. Like viewpoint changes, tense changes jar the reader and mark the
writer as an amateur. Unless you are an accomplished writer, do not even
consider changing tenses within your novel. If you are uncertain which
tense to choose, go with past tense. It is the easiest to handle and the
most invisible to the reader.
Take full advantage of these tools.
The same exact plot, setting and character can become totally different
stories by experimenting with point-of-view, intimacy and voice. If you
don’t believe me, try it. Write a short story with three characters: a
grandmother, her alcoholic son, and her five-year-old granddaughter.
First, tell the story from Third Person Panoramic. Then use either first
person or third person controlled consciousness to tell the story again
from each of the characters’ perspectives.
Point of view, voice, intimacy and
tense are the spices in your main dish of plot, character and setting.
As such, they must exist, but they should be invisible to the reader,
allowing for a smooth, full-bodied flavor without any jarring
inconsistencies. My best advice: keep it simple, keep it consistent.
(c) copyright 2002 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved,
except for those listed here. November be reproduced for educational purposes
(such as for writer's workshops), as long as this copyright notice and the url: http://tritt.wirefire.com are distributed with the pages. For use in
conferences or other uses not mentioned here, please contact Sandy Tritt
for permission and additional resources at no or limited charge.
Old Manuscripts Around? Try Mixing
Do you have two "unfinished
symphonies" lying around? These are stories you liked but never
completed, or perhaps stories you sent out but which never achieved
One exercise that will stretch
your skills and lengthen the stories is to merge the stories into one.
First, you need to explain the
shift in location. Perhaps you have a bizarre change in time or place.
In this case, just use the fiction time machine to jump back and forth,
at least once.
Next, you need to consider the
characters. How will these characters meet? What would their common
interest (or disinterest) be?
Now comes the real challenge. If
you create these juxtapositions, what will they mean? How can the
protagonist(s) work together for a common goal, or a common battle,
whichever seems to apply.
The result may not be a
beautifully crafted piece, but it will help build flexibility into your
writer's imagination. And, as with many writing tasks, you can set the
result aside and come back to it later on. And that time, months or even
years away, you might discover that you had the makings of a true
masterpiece in hand.
Critiques by Sandy
Unlike most editors, I consider my role
to be a mentor or a coach. Instead of just telling you what is wrong, I
explain how to correct the problem, and I work with you to teach you how
to write effective prose. More than 50% of my business is repeat
business, and I relish establishing long-term relationships with other
Treat you with respect and compassion.
All criticism will be of the "constructive" sort. My purpose is to
improve your writing, not to destroy your confidence.
Mark your manuscript, correcting
grammatical and spelling errors and suggesting alternative wording where
Highlight areas that are especially
well-written, so you will know where your strengths are.
Where appropriate, offer suggestions for
plot development, character development or other areas that could be
Return a two-to-four page written
analysis of your work. This will include evaluation of: plot, setting,
characterization, dialogue, special effects (flash forwards, flashbacks,
etc.), voice, point of view and any other areas particular to your work.
If appropriate, recommend reading or
resources to strengthen your areas of weakness.
Answer any questions you have via
Provide my telephone number for a
personal follow-up, if you desire.
For Sandy's success stories, see
Write Sandy at
(See Sandy's article
The Real 'James Herriot'
by Leslie Weddell
Editor's note: visit
Reservebooks.com, where Leslie
offers an "Author Spotlight." This
is the first in his series.
Many readers will recall the
wonderful books and television
series of “All Creatures Great and
Small” by James Herriot.
But that was not the author’s name,
for his real name was James Alfred
Wight. (Apparently he preferred to
be addressed as Alf, rather than
As a practising veterinarian surgeon
and member of the Royal Veterinary
Society, Alf Wight was not allowed
to use his real name as it was seen
to be advertising his work. So Alf
used the name ‘James Herriot’ and
was allowed to write his
entertaining books about his life as
James Alfred Wight was born on
October 3rd 1916 in Sunderland. His
parents, James and Hannah Wight
moved to Glasgow soon after their
wedding, but nine months later
Hannah returned to Sunderland to
have her baby. When James was only
three weeks old his mother returned
to join her husband in Glasgow where
he lived for the next twenty years
or so, and because of his broad
Glaswegian accent many people
thought he was a born Scot.
He qualified in difficult times in
early 1939, and his first position
as a vet was in Sunderland in
January 1940. He did not move to
Thirsk until July of the same year.
Alf began writing his books and
became an overnight sensation, but
he did not let it go to his head, He
still led his normal lifestyle, and
was much respected as a skilled
veterinarian surgeon. He was an avid
supporter of Sunderland Football
(soccer) Club and loved cricket,
music, athletics and tennis. He
married Joan Danbury on the 5th of
November 1941 in St. Mary’s
Magdalene Church, Thirsk. They had
two children, Jimmy and Rosie. Jimmy
followed in his father’s footsteps
and became a veterinary surgeon
whilst Rosie became a doctor.
The original surgery was in Kirkgate
Thirsk, but was moved in 1997 to
purpose built premises on the Thirsk
trading estate. The original
building along with an adjacent one
has been turned into the famous
‘World of James Herriot’ centre.
If you have not read any of
‘Herriot’s’ books you really must -
for you are in for a treat!
They are full of humour and portray
beautifully the life and times of a
vet in the 1940’s in rural England.
The weather in Yorkshire in winter
can resemble Siberia at times,
(especially in the thirties and
forties) with biting cold and frozen
and slippery country roads and farm
tracks to drive down. And a
veterinary practice is on call 24
hours a day. Being called out at 3am
to a cow that has birthing problems
is not a pleasant way to spend the
night. In those days cow sheds had
no heating, hygiene was not as it is
today, and the poor vet had to strip
to the waist in the freezing cold to
make a difficult, and risky delivery
without losing the mother. The
farmer would stand by and try to be
useful, but often he had little in
the way of amenities for the vet to
use apart from a bucket of hot water
and a few towels.
Alf Wight had a long and fruitful
life and passed away in 1995, but
his wonderful stories are forever
with us for generations to come to
be enjoyed by all.
You can find out more about author
Alf Wight by going to google search
engine and entering ‘The World of
Besides all the books, you can find
the television and film series on
DVD and video tapes too.
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December, 2005 (no. 612)
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