Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Writing Wednesday: A Lesson in Voice

Recently, I mentioned the memoir A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. Today I’d like to share one other line from that book, this time as an example of "voice." Voice is one of those writing concepts that's harder to explain than it is to understand. I like this description, from the blog of my agent, ChipMacGregor:

Voice is the personality of the author, expressed through words on the page. When you write, your word choices, your phrasing and structure, your thinking and themes — they all help establish your personality as a writer… Great voice in writing is a unique and courageous act. And I don’t think it can be created — I believe it rises up from the soul of the writer.

One reason A Girl Named Zippy is such a well-written book is because the author has such a distinctive voice. As she recounts her tale of growing up in a small town in the Midwest in the 1960s and 70s, part of what makes it so charming is the quirky and disarming personality that shines through the writing.

Kimmel's Gift of Voice

Here’s a perfect example, a clause that comes up in an utterly random and hilarious way.  Out of the blue, referring to her 5- or maybe 6-year-old self, Kimmel starts a new paragraph with these words:

When it became completely impossible for me to live without a pet chicken,

Now that’s voice. Because not only do we know exactly what she means, but we can feel it through her, as she felt it then. Certainly when I was that age, I had days when it became completely impossible for me to live without a pet chicken. Reading this made me burst out laughing, and it brought me right back to those moments and the feelings that came with them.

Beware the Maggots and Headless Rabbits

And that's it for my Zippy-related writing lessons. Word to the wise, I will say that even though I enjoyed the book and deeply respected the writing, overall it was a bit too gruesome for me. Unless you grew up on a farm or among a family of hunters, you might steer clear. Just FYI.

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