Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Final polish: voice vs. grammar

I'm putting the final polish on Disciple, Part I: For Want of a Piglet. Then I'm going to publish it.

The line edits I got from my freelance editor (Debra Doyle, respectful namaste) are great. She targeted the places where I was genuinely unclear or poorly structured, and didn't complain about all the stuff I did to create a narrative voice.

A little red-inking that I did a while back.
Which is difficult. I certainly have trouble discerning between Disciple's voice and what's unclear, which is why a line edit is a must. It got me to thinking about what voice is and how we balance it with clarity and grammatical correctness.

Voice is a difficult thing to define, from what I've seen. It's hard to talk about in a concrete way, but I'm going to take a stab at it. Here's a random snippet of Disciple:
My head cocked, on reflex, weighing that. There was more to come, I didn’t doubt. “Yes, m’lord,” I responded, quietly. “I see.”
Now, when it comes to grammar, sentence structure, and voice, I tend to be more instinctive than rigorous. I let my gut make the call, most of the time. My gut says there's nothing wrong with that excerpt. OMG adverb! Yes. And an adverbial phrase, too. That's a different blog post. Let's also skip the first sentence for a moment and consider the second one. I could have said:
I didn't doubt there was more to come. 
and that would be fine and correct. It would fit the voice, even. My gut made this call, and now that I'm looking at it with my brain I'd have to say that I structured the sentence as I did because the emphasis here isn't on what's to come, it's on the narrator's lack of doubt. (The last thing in a sentence carries the most weight.)

The first sentence is more complicated and potentially unclear. I could have said:
My head cocked, on reflex, as I weighed that.
but I dropped two words to shorten the sentence. It's a quick action, a snap judgement. It's got a good, snappy verb in cocked and the implied action of weighing. The next sentence is slower, as the MC thinks a bit, and the verbs are was and didn't. Then we get into what she actually says aloud, which in my head has always been a bit slow and thoughtful. That's probably why I used a big, soft dialogue tag like responded and slowed it down further with an adverb.

Two stylistic sins, by most standards. Get the cat-o'-nine-tails and flog this writer! I will plead voice in my own defense -- but that's not a card you want to pull often. Voice is not an excuse for unclear, sloppy writing. I think you can earn an adverb and a soft dialogue tag with five thousand words of good, tight stuff, but that's only my opinion.

The quote above is just a small snippet; the reader breezes through this in no time. Which is as it should be. This is all supposed to be invisible under normal circumstances. This blog post constitutes far more thought than I usually put into three sentences. I've also slid from talking about grammar into touching on rhythm and pacing at the sentence level -- which is part of voice, too.

Stay tuned for another topic I'm going to pull into this snippet...

1 comment:

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I'm glad things are proceeding nicely with your manuscript. Can't wait to read it :) A good editor is so hard to find.

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