The trick to drawing in your reader is to nail the storytelling voice from the start. Just as in life, your voice should be a reflection of who you are and where your story will go. Your voice should be able to entertain, enlighten, amuse, move or whatever is authentic to you and to your story. And it should start this way and remain consistent. As Adair Lara says in her wonderful March/April Writer Digest article “All About THAT Voice”, ” It’s not the paint on the wall; it’s the wall itself.”
She points out that the content in your story is not the first thing drawing your audience in; it’s the voice. Although her article is geared toward writing non-fiction, it applies to fiction and to life as well.
In order for your story to succeed, the reader must relate to the voice. I immediately think of J.D. Salinger’s teenage protagonist and narrator ,Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye”.
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
Holden Caulfield is a naive and rebellious teenager who is resentful of the adult world. He detests hypocrisy, yet he, himself, is a contradiction. He fails classes and refers to himself as being dumb, yet his intelligence is reflected in his extremely articulate narration through out the story, as we see above in that very first sentence of the novel.
The reader immediately senses what kind of teen Holden is and how he perceives the world, without revealing any additional details. The reader relates to his voice and feels drawn to the story.
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, the story opens with Nick Carraway, the narrator:
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me,” just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages you’ve had.”
Wow. That is powerful. The reader senses that Nick is an easy-going, yet sometimes sarcastic, optimistic character, therefore; it is easy to follow along with him as he describes the life-style and experiences of his wealthy, mysterious neighbor, Jay Gatsby. Nick’s optimism fades as we progress through the novel, symbolic of the fading exterior shine of the wealthy, fun lifestyle of the rich. Nick is a reserved, Yale educated 29 year old man, who learned from his father and upbringing not to form quick judgements. However, by the end of the story, he learns through irony and tragedy, the potential ” decadent” downside of the American dream. The human aspiration to succeed, to start over, combined with social politics and it’s devastating consequences, betrayal and of one’s own ideals. All of that, sprouting from the seed of voice planted in the first paragraph of the story.
Start with your own voice. Bring your personality in. Then borrow some of the tricks from writers you admire. Weave it all together and dive in. Don’t think too hard or the voice will not sound authentic. Just as Lara says, ” A relatable voice is confident, intelligent, vulnerable, personable, authentic and trustworthy. You want to follow this person around. You want to be her friend.” Just as in life, we choose company based on those we relate to. Why would a reader choose to follow along in a story if she is unable to relate to the company she will keep. She won’t.
It’s not the paint on the wall; it’s the wall itself. It’s not the fluff on “the outside” in the content or plot, it’s the authentic voice beneath. Start with THAT voice and your reader won’t be able to do anything else but follow you to the end.