Editing does not destroy one’s voice. Editing brings out one’s voice.
To make a beautiful garden, one has to trim a few branches and remove the dead flowers.
We insult the reader’s intelligence with:
- She had to make a decision about what to do.
- She thought to herself.
- She shrugged her shoulders.
Leave Normal Everyday Stuff Out
“Hello,” she said into her cell phone.
“Hello. Is this Mary?” asked John on the other end of the line.
“Yes, it is,” she said.
“How are you?” he asked her.
“I am fine,” said Mary. “How are you?” she asked.
“Fine. Do you want to go to the mall with me?” he asked.
“Yes. I would. What time will you be coming by to get me?” she asked.
This is an extreme exaggeration, but …
Writing Like We Talk
This may sound contradictory, but if we think about it, a regional accent is somebody else’s voice. It’s dialect. We must remove it from our writing.
For example: My mother grew up in RR 2, Tiny Village, Ottawa Valley and any time I hear someone from that area talking, I know exactly where they grew up. It’s a small, small pocket of Eastern Ontario with a unique voice.
“Hey. You’re from Beachburg, aren’t you?”
“Shurl! It’s bin a dog’s eej since we seen yer fizog.”
[Pronounce the French word for face — visage — as an Anglo would and you’ll get fizog. My grandfather used that all the time and I knew what he meant but not where it came from until well into my adulthood. I swear I laughed for a week when I figured out what it actually was. The Grant Settlement where he lived is right across the river from Quebec.]
If we are writing about characters living in another part of the country, or in another part of the world, we need to be wary of using regional terms familiar to us but not appropriate for the book we are writing.
To give another example: If we are writing about a Toronto cop investigating a murder in Toronto, we can’t have her drive to the suspect’s house, park on the apron and open her boot. Even in third person she would arrive at the suspect’s house, park in the driveway and open her trunk. In Toronto. Or pretty much anywhere in Canada or the US.
Yes. Yes. Write what you know. But when we remove all our personal idiosyncrasies and regional syntax, what’s left is our own unique voice. This is where we need to transplant heads. Not our head (regional accent) into the narrator’s head, but his into ours so we can see it the way it is, not through the (in my case, the Irish-influenced dialect of Renfrew) green-tinted lenses of our own mind.
“But it doesn’t sound like me anymore.”
Good. It isn’t supposed to. It’s supposed to sound like the real you. Your real voice. Nobody else’s.
Next post: The Mysterious Comma
Sherrill Wark is the author of Really Stupid Writing Mistakes: How to Avoid Them: http://www.amazon.com/Really-Stupid-Writing-Mistakes-Avoid/dp/1479308226
… and Death in l’Acadie: a Kesk8a story (fiction): http://www.amazon.com/Death-lAcadie-Kesk8a-Sherrill-Wark/dp/1511501154/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8