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Mastering the Voice of the Memoirist

This post originally ran on Jane Friedman’s blog in 2017. Be aware there are mature passages in here.

Voice is like your fingerprint. Each of us has a voice when we speak aloud. We have a style of speaking, our own unique vocabulary and syntax and inflections.

When we write, we also adopt a “voice.” In fiction, each point-of-view character has a unique voice, which permeates both the narrative and dialogue. In nonfiction, the writer’s voice sets the tone and style for the entire book.

When we consider penning a memoir, we can (and should) carefully choose the type of voice that would best suit the story we are telling.

Setting the Tone

Voice is different from tone, but the two are connected. If you plan to write a humorous memoir, the tone will be funny and light (though you can have dark humor too), and the voice you would use would need to fit that tone.

Your story may be one of very painful, dark, and/or terrifying experiences. But that does not mean your tone should be dark, nor that your voice should be heavy, somber, or depressing. Continue Reading…

Looking Back over the Journey to the Heart

“The idea is to write so that people hear it, and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” —Maya Angelou

Over the course of this year, we’ve taken a long journey from the entrance to the mine to the heart of your story, where the mother lode of gold is hidden. The objective? To create an unforgettable, great novel that speaks to the heart of the reader—hopefully transcending the restrictions of time and place. By aiming for the heart with universal themes, rich characters, and carefully constructed scenes, you might just produce a novel that will live in the hearts of readers for generations—a novel we might call timeless. Continue Reading…

The Universality Is in the Details

I started thinking about universality since we want our novel’s theme to have universal appeal—meaning a whole bunch of people all over the world should be able to relate to it at perhaps any time in history. But while we’re thinking in broad, all-encompassing ideas, I want to make a distinction here. Don’t make the mistake in thinking that in order to appeal to a wide audience with a universal appeal we have to write in very general terms and details. You may think that the more unspecific you can get with your locale, setting, time period, problems presented, the more universal the novel will be. You may think if your character can have a general problem—say a bad temper or he’s a Scrooge—a lot of people will identify with him . . . so you decide to not be too specific and take the risk of making your novel’s world so small that no one will relate.

Continue Reading…

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