Talking about Voice, part 3: One author, three books

*hits the resume button on the voice series*

I wanted to do one more post on author voice before we dive into characters. As interesting as comparing different authors is, it does raise another question:

What parts of those different styles were because of the authors, and which parts were because of the book?

So in order to really get a handle on author voice, we're going to look at three different books by one author.  I chose Neil Gaiman, not just because Neil Gaiman is the Chuck Norris of books, but also because he has a consistent style that's easy to study.

First the excerpt from the last post:
There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.
The knife had a handle of polished black bone and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you would not even know you had been cut, not immediately.
The knife had done almost everything it was brought to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.
The street door was still open, just a little, where the knife and the man had slipped in, and wisps of nighttime mist slithered and twined into the house through the open door.
The man Jack paused on the landing. With his left hand he pulled a large white handkerchief from the pocket of his black coat, and with it he wiped off the knife and his gloved right hand which had been holding it; then he put the handkerchief away. The hunt was almost over.
From The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

All well and good. But what if he wrote a story with an entirely different feel to it?
There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart's Desire.
And while that is, as beginnings go, not entirely novel (for every tale about every young man there ever was or will be could start in a similar manner), there was much about this young man and what happened to him that was unusual, although even he never knew the whole of it.
The tale started, as many tales have started, in Wall
From Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Those first two books could both be considered YA (although Gaiman moves fluidly between adult and YA, so he's hard to classify). But what if we looked at one of his adult fantasies?
She had been running for four days now, a harum-scarum tumbling flight through passages and tunnels. She was hungry, and exhausted, and more tired than a body could stand, and each successive door was proving harder to open. After four days of flight, she had found a hiding place, a tiny stone burrow, under the world, where she would be safe, or so she prayed, and at last she slept.
*   *  *
Mr. Croup had hired Ross at the last Floating Market, which had been held in Westminster Abbey. "Think of him," he told Mr. Vandemar, "as a canary."
"Sings?" asked Mr. Vandemar.
"I doubt it; I sincerely and utterly doubt it." Mr. Croup ran a hand through his lank orange hair. "No, my fine friend, I was thinking metaphorically--more along the lines of the birds they take down mines."
Mr. Vandemar nodded, comprehension dawning slowly: yes a canary. Mr. Ross had no other resemblance to a canary. He was huge--almost as big as Mr. Vandemar--and extremely grubby, and quite hairless, and he said very little, although he had made a point of telling each of them that he liked to kill things, and he was good at it, and this amused Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. But he was a canary and he never knew it. So Mr. Ross went first in his filthy T-shirt and his crusted blue-jeans, and Croup and Vandemar walked behind him in their elegant black suits.
From Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Across age ranges, across different kinds of stories, the voice stays consistent.

Here's what I know. When you have put in the work, when you have honed your craft, your voice will come. And it will be recognizable in everything you do.

Looking at them side by side, you can see how some of the things we talked about in the last post--like the longer sentences and the simple descriptions--are part of Neil Gaiman's author voice. Also notice that even though the third passage has dialogue and more than one character, it still carries a little of the same narrative distance of the other two paragraphs.

Every author has a certain way they like to write, and that is what we mean when we say "author voice".

Does this make sense? Do you guys have any questions?

You can find the rest of the voice series here: 
Talking about Voice, part 1: What is it?
Talking about Voice, part 2: Three authors, three books
Talking about Voice, part 4: Viewpoint voices
Talking about Voice, part 5: Differences in character dialogue
Talking about Voice, part 6: Helpful links


  1. Oh, Neil Gaiman. Why is he so brilliant? Why? WHY?

    One of these days I'll figure it out. And then . . . he will be mine.

  2. That makes so much sense to me!

    It's funny, because voice isn't something you see as much in your own work, because you're so close to it. (At least, I've always been!) I remember, though, the moment I really started to see something of my style and voice. My co-author and I have been writing together since 2002, and there are plenty of times I have no idea who wrote what in our books. Then, during NaNo 2009, we each wrote a novel on our own, and I remember when I read over both of them, I really, really saw the individual voices. I saw phrases that she used and words that I used, and it made it easier for me to see them in the books we wrote together. We've just become really adept at blending our voices together.

    I guess the point to all my rambling is: you're absolutely right. Every author has a voice, and the more you read, the more you see different voices. Likewise, I think the more you write, the more you can learn to see your own style.

    I can't wait to see what you have to say about characters. :D

  3. Renee- Yours as in "you will be as brilliant as he is"? Or yours in the "lock him in the basement forever and ever" sense? One of those could be an issue. *snicker*

    Laura- The character posts are scaring me. So much to distill! At least you guys have liked the posts so far... :)

  4. Thanks Miriam. I hope some day you do a post about how you make sure all your characters sound different. I really struggle with this.

  5. Natalie- One post on different character voices, coming up! *waves wand* *grins*

    Not quite sure how I'm going to present the character voice stuff, but I will try to answer that question before the series is over. :)

  6. It is difficult sometimes to see your own voice. You see it in other writers, esp those who write a series. Even if you feel you don't have a unique voice, don't try to copy someone else's voice. It won't work.

  7. Helen- I think experimenting with other writing voices has its place. but you're right, you can't copy someone else's voice and expect to succeed.


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