From the Writer’s Perspective: A Story Needs a Voice

Let’s be more clear: A story needs the right voice. In the case of Corey’s book, which I’m co-writing, it needs Corey’s voice. Not mine, not some vague idea of what a creative executive should sound like, not an imitation of similar books out there (if there were any)—not any of these; it needs Corey’s voice.

A couple of years ago, before I was a full-time professional writer and editor, I sent a few of my fiction and narrative nonfiction pieces out to literary magazines. I was prepared for rejection, just as all writers should be. So imagine my surprise when, just a few days later, I found an acceptance letter in my e-mail! My short narrative nonfiction piece had been accepted by a top-tier magazine. I was in happy, dazed shock. But then came the editing. To make a long story short, my piece was published, but its voice sounds less like me and more like the editor, who appreciated Hemingway’s minimalist style versus, say, Morrison’s lush language. While I’m proud that the piece is in this magazine, I feel unsettled when I read its published version; truth be told, I still like mine better.

That’s a feeling I never want Corey to have. After that experience, which was by no means traumatizing—simply educational—I learned the importance of capturing and preserving the right voice in stories. Fortunately, Corey has a fantastic storytelling voice, as anyone who has heard him speak knows. The trick is in taking that voice and the stories it relates on the phone each week, and interpreting them both for the written word. See, oral storytelling and written storytelling are different. When you’re reading a book, the words need to somehow capture the emotion that you can hear when somebody’s voice trembles or cracks or rises in a flash of anger or elation. I wish I could say there’s a foolproof way of doing this, there’s not. And I’m glad. Formulas are great for math and science, but writing is magic, alchemy. So I do my best to capture the essence of Corey’s voice and rely on him to tell me how on or off the mark I am. All I can say is, I hope I’m more often on than off!

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