Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Behind the Books: A Look at Voice, Part 1

Way back in September, I mentioned that nonfiction writing has three key elements: structure, voice, and word choice. At the time, I was focusing on structure, but I promised to discuss voice and word choice at some point. It turns out, today’s the day I’ll share some of my thoughts about voice.

Fiction writers are always thinking about voice. Fiction editors often say what they’re looking for is a character or a narrator with a great, distinctive voice.

Voice. Voice. Voice. What is it?

People have written entire books about voice, but l’m just going to focus on nonfiction voice in this blog. After all, that’s what I write.

In nonfiction writing, voice has three basic components: point of view, style, and tone. Today I’m going to talk about point of view.

There are three points of view to consider: first person, second person, and third person.

I can only think of a couple books for young readers written in the first person. These are memoirs written by teens who have had gone through horrific experiences, such as crystal meth addiction.

Second person point of view is a little more common, but still not the norm. It is used when the author wants to put the reader right into the middle of the action.

Here are a few examples:

Army Ant Parade by April Pulley Sayre
If you awake in a tentunder a green canopy of trees
one morning in Panama,
and all you hear is your heartbeat
and a strange silence,
then you know they are coming.

If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty
You push buttons.
Lights flicker. Machinery whirs.
Rockets fire. Your ship lifts off.
Your heart lifts, too,
but you have thousands of miles
to travel. You just have to be patient.

If You Hopped Like a Frog by David Schwartz
If you hopped like a frog . . .
you could jump from home plate to first base in one mighty leap!

If you were as strong as an ant . . .
you could lift a car.

Most nonfiction books are written in third person point of view. You can find lots of great examples at your local library.

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