Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An Example of Voice: The Knife of Never Letting Go

                “Howdy, n’ welcome to this here blog o’ mine.”

                “Greetings. I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to you for visiting this online expression of my thoughts.”

                “S’up dudes. This be my blog.”

                Hi. And welcome to my blog.

                Hopefully these examples have highlighted the importance of today’s subject: Voice. It’s a crucial part of writing a story worth reading, and it’s a great way to introduce readers to your characters, and the world your story takes place in.

                Recently, I found a book with a voice that exemplifies this very well. The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness, involves mind-reading. Lots of it. Not just a focused look into the mind of a single person at a time, but everyone projecting their thoughts into the air, all the time, to everyone.

                There are no private thoughts. Where there are people, there is Noise.

                This concept, plus talking animals and a main character who’s practically illiterate - yet often profound - make for an interesting voice indeed. Remember that post on breaking the rules?

                The First Pages:

                The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.

                “Need a poo, Todd.”

                “Shut up, Manchee.”

                “Poo. Poo, Todd.”

                “I said shut it.”

                We’re walking across the wild fields southeast of town, those ones that slope down to the river and head on toward the swamp. Ben’s sent me to pick him up some swamp apples and he’s made me take Manchee with me, even tho we all know Cillian only bought him to stay on Mayor Prentiss’s good side and so suddenly here’s this brand-new dog as a present for my birthday last year when I never said I wanted any dog, that what I said I wanted was for Cillian to finally fix the fissionbike so I wouldn’t have to walk every forsaken place in this stupid town, but oh, no, happy birthday, Todd, here’s a brand-new puppy, Todd, and even tho you don’t want him, even tho you never asked for him, guess who has to feed him and train him and wash him and take him for walks and listen to him jabber now he’s got old enough for the talking germ to set his mouth moving? Guess who?


                We don’t need apples from the swamp, truth be told. Ben can buy them at Mr. Phelps’s store if he really wants them. Also true: going to the swamp to pick a few apples is not a job for a man cuz men are never allowed to be so idle. Now, I won’t officially become a man for thirty more days. I’ve lived twelve years of thirteen long months each and another twelve months besides, all of which living means I’m still one month away from the big birthday. The plans are being planned, the preparayshuns prepared, it will be a party, I guess, tho I’m starting to get some strange pictures about it, all dark and too bright at the same time, but nevertheless I will become a man and picking apples in the swamp is not a job for a man or even an almost-man.

                But Ben knows he can ask me to go and he knows I’ll say yes to going because the swamp is the only place anywhere near Prentisstown where you can have half a break from all the Noise that men spill outta theirselves, all their clamor and clatter that never lets up, even when they sleep, men and the thoughts they don’t know they think even when everyone can hear. Men and their Noise. I don’t know how they do it, how they stand each other.

                Men are Noisy creachers.

                I think The Knife of Never Letting Go is the kind of book where you’ll read the first page and either love it – like I did – or run screaming in pursuit of a grammar textbook. It all goes back to those ‘rules’ of writing, and how attached you are to them. If you need the standard rules, you will probably not enjoy this book.

                If you’re willing to suspend those rules, just for a while… Just long enough to catch a glimpse into a new planet where grammar doesn’t matter and thoughts run over each other just like in real life so it’s all on the page and it’s real

                Then you probably will like this book.

                Artfully misspelled words, run-on sentences galore, every sentence mimicking the thought process of someone surrounded by thoughts all the time. All this, plus the usual terminology of a science fiction tale – fissionbikes, ‘Askings’ instead of questions, etc. A slower beginning as we’re introduced to this world, then almost nonstop action, taking the reader to those Scenes of Ultimate Despair again and again. Then, a cliff-hanger ending that leaves you desperate for the next book in the series.

                It’s messy in places. It’s violent. It’s awful and tragic and – above all – unflinching.

                And I loved it. Even the things I wouldn’t exactly be thrilled about in an average book (some profanity for instance – not my cup of tea) were overshadowed by the plot, the characters, and the voice.

                Which would you rather hear? A tone-deaf amateur mangling your favorite song? Or your favorite singer in all the world singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’?

                Voice is like that. A good one can save a book, or a bad one could doom it.

                What’s the voice of your story?

                Are there any other books you can think of with a fantastic – or at the very least, distinctive – voice? Any books that lacked a distinctive voice? And what are some ways you’ve tried to develop your voice when writing?
And finally, the inevitable excuse: This post is late due to school stuff, musical practice, my sister home from college for a few days... And I've been making paperclip jewelry and a clay/wire doll based on the main character of this year's NaNo novel. I've been productive... Just not in a blogging way. XD

1 comment:

  1. Nice way of mixing your advice with a book review!

    I'm usually pretty good about shoving my inner Red Pen of Grammar Correction in a closet if the style of the book calls for it. I'm not certain I could handle this book, though. I wonder if it was tough for Ness to write that horrible grammatically incorrect?

    This is something I'm going to have to keep in the back of my mind while I'm crying tears of blood and cursing your name next month. Err... I mean, typing away at my NaNoWriMo and thanking you for urging me to look into it. ;)