Part 2 is here.
Memoirs are popular because we love to know the details about other people, and this genre promises to at least reflect the raw truth.
The author's voice is a huge part of this appeal. But what is that, exactly?
What Is Voice?
Voice is the articulation of your authentic self--the capturing of your essence in prose. It's what gives your story energy, momentum, and depth.
When well done, energy, or the book's "life force," makes the reader want to know what happens next. Momentum is the rhythm that moves the plot forward at the appropriate pace. And depth provides the personal details that shed light on everything you have to say.
An Example of Voice
Voice is found in every sentence, as seen, for example, in the first paragraph of Frank McCourt's masterpiece, Angela's Ashes:
"When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how my brothers and I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood. The happy childhood is hardly worth telling. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood. And worse still is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."
What do we know about the author so far?
First, he is not a fan of three-dollar words. He is not pretentious or trying to impress. It's as if he's sitting across the kitchen table from you, cup of coffee in hand, reminiscing on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The repetition of "I," "miserable childhood," and "Irish" creates a cadence that draws us in. The energy is warm and calm, and we want to know more.
Second, he is not hiding the worst aspects of his past, which many of us are programmed to find shameful. In fact, from the very get-go, he bares not only his very essence--what it means to be Frank McCourt--but he plunges us directly into the time and place he was most vulnerable. This opening paragraph--like all the others in the book--creates momentum for the plot points of his life story.
And, finally, he not only aligns us on the book's horizontal, plot-driven axis, he drops us firmly onto the vertical, character-driven axis, as well. We know not just the broad outline of his childhood, but also what makes him, him. Look at the subtle details: "how my brothers and I managed to survive at all." "It was, of course, a miserable childhood." Think about how different our insight would be if he had left out these words. And consider what we know about Frank because he thought it was important to say that the "happy childhood is hardly worth telling."
How to Add Voice to Your Own Life Story
Ghostwriters seek to reveal the essence of their subjects through the subject's unique voice. This often is achieved by writing in first person and using prose that is informal and conversational. The following questions also help reveal voice:
With a little self-knowledge and practice, you can make your story the best it can be, told loud and clear, in your unique voice.