What is “Voice” and How Do You Use it?

Using Voice Effectively
by Deborah Owen

What do writers mean by “voice”? The voice, or point of view (POV), is the angle from which a story is viewed; every story and article has one. There are three types of POV and, while some are more preferred, no particular one is right or wrong.

* First person POV pronouns are: I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, and ours. New authors usually write in first person because they feel focused and closer to the story. First person draws the reader in, but it’s a limiting POV and is not the editor’s favorite.

There are two problems with first person POV. First, the constant use of “I” becomes trite. Second, the story’s character only knows what the writer knows, and cannot see from a different POV.

For example, if John says, “Susan is going to meet me at seven o’clock,” and in the meantime, Susan falls, breaks a leg, and lies helplessly on the floor, John will not know what happened to her until someone tells him. First person POV is better reserved for memoirs, journal entries, and specific stories.

* Second person POV pronouns are: you, (singular), you (plural), your, and yours. Example: “You must come with me to the Christmas play. You and I will have popcorn and lots of fun. Did you know your hat is on backwards?” As you can see, this point of view is even more limiting and never used.

* Third person POV pronouns are: he, his, she, hers, it, its, they, their, and theirs. There are two kinds of third person writing, omniscient, and limited. In third person omniscient, the readers are like flies on the wall and they can see into characters’ minds. This POV limits the suspense since the reader is left with few unanswered questions – but it’s easy to write because authors don’t have to work at “showing” the scene.

* Third person limited doesn’t show internal dialogue (thoughts) so the characters can’t foreknow anything. Like first person, the readers can see through the character’s eyes, but unlike first person, they can also see through the eyes of others.

In third person limited, the suspense builds as the writer shows the scene instead of telling it. The reader lives the story as the character lives it. Here is an example from Deborah Owen’s The Perfect Crime:

“Harrison slumped against the car, collapsed, and rolled in agony as he clutched his chest. Vision blurred, and then his eyes rolled back until they relaxed in a wide, empty stare.”

The sample doesn’t say the man had a heart attack and died, but you know it, don’t you? As you can see, even showing may have a little ‘telling’ in it.

Editors buy more third person limited than first person. Let your readers feel your characters instead of seeing them. Play with the various points of view until you’re comfortable writing all of them.

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