Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Writer’s Voice

In between playing my beautiful, newly acquired tenor sax – sooooh mellow – and clearing space for mattresses and babies, and rushing around shopping and cooking, I am reading a Joanna Trollope novel – Second Honeymoon. She writes good quality commercial fiction – accessible prose, interesting dilemmas for her characters, page-turning. It is the kind of book I look forward to picking up again because I want to know what happens. I need something easy to read at the moment, and this is just what the doctor ordered.


I have remembered that Joanna T has a strong voice, and every so often it is a voice that gets on my nerves. This is a personal thing and should not be read as a criticism of her writing. Who am I to criticise JT?

No, but I am reading happily and then I will stumble over a sentence. The construction of it is uncomfortable, and I will then rewrite it in my head – in MY voice. It is usually a sentence of dialogue, and it is the position of the bit outside the quotes which bugs me.


‘But,’ Rosa said, gesturing wildly. ‘I’m not going to stop you! I’m not going to get in the way of your - rediscovering each other. If that’s what you want-’

JT so often has one word and then a bit outside of the quotes and then  returns to the quotes, and I so often find it objectionable. I would arrange it thus -

‘But I’m not going to stop you!’ Rosa said, gesturing wildly. ‘I’m not going to get in the way of your - rediscovering each other. If that’s what you want-’

JT does the same kind of thing where dialogue is not involved and i also don’t like it. I hate the construction of this sentence - it gives a very particular JT flavour which annoys me, but I would have to think hard to tease out exactly why:

Thinking this was not, Matthew found, at all comfortable.

If you are a writer, you will understand why the exact construction of paragraphs and sentences can feel so important. If you’re not a writer, you may think this is nit picking. And just in case you’re wondering, I look forward to reading JT again tonight.



Jacob Naylor said...

I've never read JT. However, from the excerpts you've placed here, I see what you mean. It seems as though she is using an almost conversational (or even provincial) voice. I much prefer your rewording of the first sentence. It felt more accessible. In other words, I got the meaning of the sentence rather than just the mental picture of the conversation.

Sue Hepworth said...

The real problem for me is that when she has what I consider to be a clumsy sentence construction or an awkward report of dialogue, it interrupts the fictive dream i.e. it makes me stop and think - 'hang on' - and that takes me out if the world of the story.

But she does write about real situations and people in an emotionally truthful and gripping way, and that is why I like to read her books when my life is so hectic that I need to relax when I am reading.