Tag Archive - Colum McCann

Masterful Voice in Novels Part 4

Last week I discussed how important it is to have conflict on every page. And I shared the Faulkner quote that author Colum McCann referenced: “The only thing that matters is the human heart in conflict with itself.”

That might not be the only thing that matters when it comes to crafting a masterful voice in your writing, but it’s an important one, to be sure.

I believe literary agent and author Donald Maass is spot-on when he teaches that microtension is the key to writing a terrific novel. Without it, a novel is flat, struggling to keep a reader’s attention.

Microtension is exactly what it sounds like: it comprises all those tiny bits that give a reader pause. Contradictions in words and phrases, unspoken mysteries and clues, incongruities, hints of danger or trouble on some level. Microtension depends on what is not being said, on subtext. It’s like a that tightrope wire McCann wrote about in Let the Great World Spinwhich I shared last week.

Those little bits sprinkled throughout every page remind me of sparking gems scattered across a beach of endless, colorless sand. As a reader, I think I essentially read as if I were a beachcomber, rushing from one glittering gem to the next, gathering them up and making my way down the beach. Continue Reading…

Masterful Voice in Novels Part 3

I want to share a bit from Colum McCann’s personal remarks at the back of his award-winning novel Let the Great World Spin, my hands-down favorite novel for showing masterful “stream of consciousness” character voice.

If you’ve missed the other posts (here and here) on masterful voice, they emphasize the (my) opinion that voice is all about the character. A writer’s style is a wholly different thing, but I won’t get into that again here.

What I may be sharing here may seem unrelated to masterful voice, but, in fact, it’s intrinsically related.

McCann opens this section talking about a personal experience: his father-in-law’s story of surviving the 9-11 attacks on the Trade Towers in New York. In his exquisite writing style, McCann recounts how the man hurried down from the 59th floor, sloshed through water and the maelstrom that was the disaster in Lower Manhattan, and walked to McCann’s apartment, throwing everything away but his shoes, which he perhaps forgot he’d left by the door (and which McCann kept).

He writes: “I still think that every touch of them loses a little more dust. I am paralyzed by the notion of what the dust might contain—a resume, a concrete girder, Sheetrock, a briefcase, a pummeled earring, an eyelash, another man’s shoe. They sit in a cupboard behind me, in my writing room, over my left shoulder, a responsibility to the past.” Continue Reading…