Writing Voice part 2: Reading for rhythm and tone

February 10, 2010

Finding the right voice to tell stories in second or third person is difficult. You have to muzzle The Writer, even though it’s you.

The Writer is too formal in early drafts. And then she’s too casual. She can’t find her way because she’s not confident enough of the details, and it shows.

This House of Sky

Ivan Doig's This House of Sky: Always a favorite voice

To speed up familiarity, I keep copies of voices that I like near my desk. Once I’ve cleared a path through all the information, I pull out old favorites in hopes that the rhythm will rub off and serve as a knowing guide.

Occasionally, my own writing works. Here’s one lead I used to read from a story on whether Seattle had lost its soul:

“On a warm summer night last July, Barbara Curtis gave us a rare chance to see how well Seattle’s heart has endured. As Curtis, Seafair Queen of 1950, led the 1999 Torchlight Parade as grand marshal, she brought most of the crowd of 350,000 to its feet, inspiring a snaking roar of cheers as she passed.

That’s the Seattle of old: good-hearted, steadfast, always up for a hokey civic event – and dressed for a parade (even at the opera.).”

More often I reach for favorites reads. Almost any page will do from Gretel Erhlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces. Or I’ll read this descriptive paragraph about an old couple, Kate and Walter Badgett, in Ivan Doig’s wonderful “This House of Sky.”

“Atop that crate of a body was an owlish face, and a swift tongue that could operate Walter all day long and still have time to tell what the rest of Ringling was doing. On her desk by the front window which looked across the tracks to the gas station and post office-store, Kate kept her pair of binoculars. Who had come to town, for how long and maybe even what they bought − it all came up the magnifying tunnel of vision to Kate, then went out with new life, as if having added to itself while re-echoing through that bulk of body.”

Oh, to have a voice like that.

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