|(Photo by Chris J. Fries - 2012: Seal Bark)|
(This is post #3 in a quest to define what creates "a good story." The kickoff of this quest was HERE.)
In our last stop of the quest, we added character and plot together to make the foundation of a good story. To me, these are the two interlocked aorta of the heart that beats at the core of a story, or to use my analogy from last time, they're the two lobes of the lungs that give the story breath.
Either way, with character and plot, a story begins to live. It may lack all the details required to elevate it to 'a good story,' but if there is a compelling character and an interesting plot, then the story should succeed with readers at least on some level.
But for story to be 'good', more is needed. The story may have lungs and a beating heart, but it still lacks a soul.
The third element of our quest must be added:
Like a soul, voice is elusive and ethereal. Ask ten authors what it is, and you'll likely get ten different answers.
Alright, I'll quit. ;^)
To me, voice is style, both in terms of an author's conscious story structure decisions, and in that author's innate writing style. It comes down to what the writer wants to do with the story, and how the writer carries out those decisions.
Story structure choices are things like:
- Should a story be written in first-person to intimately bond a reader to a character? Or should it be written in third-person to provide some distance?
- Does the writer want to stay close to a single character through the entire story, or should different characters be used for sections, chapters, or scenes? Which character? Voice is heavily influenced by the character -- the voice used to tell the story of a hardened street thug will be different than that used for a cookie-baking grandmother.
- Who is the writer's target audience? A story written for children will be structured differently than one written for adults, and the voice will be different too.
- Is there a particular genre the story falls into? For example, mystery and romance have some established conventions, so a story might be structured differently depending on which genre the writer wants to target, if any, or how closely he wants to follow those conventions, and again -- the voice will be different also.
Each decision the author consciously makes about story structure gives rise to its voice.
And yet there's more -- give Stephen King and Neil Gaiman the exact same characters, the exact same plot, and the exact same story structure down to every detail, and you will still get two distinct stories.
Their voices will still be unique.
They will not choose the same things to describe or emphasize in a scene, even if they are describing the same scene. They will make different word choices. They will have unique rhythms in their sentences. The way the story flows will not be the same.
Just because that's the way they write. Their innate, inner voices are distinct and unique, and their stories will be too.
And they should be.
In the hands of a confident author who is fully in the moment of the creative act of writing, voice will naturally come through. It does take a while to develop, and that's why I say a 'confident' author. Like confidence, voice only comes from practice and experimentation, but it does strengthen with every word a writer creates.
Voice develops as a deeply personal part of a writer. Because it comes from their soul.
And that's the only place that the soul of a good story can be created.
* * *
Compelling character, intriguing plot, and a beguiling voice. Put those three together, and you will surely get a good story, right?
Yes. I think these are the three magical components -- the body, mind, and soul of a truly 'good' story.
But yet I feel our quest is not complete. I think we need to delve deeper into these elements. Just how do I know my character is compelling? How can I make my plot intriguing? Is my voice really beguiling?
So for the next seven stops on this quest, we will peel back the layers of this holy triumvirate of good story. Check back on Monday for the next stop, and in the meantime, your thoughts and comments are always welcome!