Wednesday, 23 March 2011
What is 'visual voice' in fiction? Simple - the effect of layout, formatting. What the reader sees when they open a book, even before they consciously 'read' the words for meaning.
I am sure there must be a technical term for what I am talking about - if there is please let me know. But I can't find it. To explain - I have just finished going through the copyeditor's changes to the manuscript of 'The Coward's Tale', many many of which were necessary, and the novel will be better for them.
But then I started wondering about some - all absolutely correct, grammatically - because they changed my perception of the words, before I even got to them - just seeing them coming in the sentence (this required a leap of consciousness, heightened awareness of what I was feeling) was changing my attitude to the prose.
I'd better give you an example. In many cases, I had created single words out of two words that would normally be hyphenated, or stand alone. "Coaldust' as opposed to 'coal dust'. Or conversely, I had broken normally joined words into two. "Can not" as opposed to 'cannot'.
My lovely copyeditor had quite rightly corrected them. But as I was reading back, these changes were changing the way I read the work. They were altering, sometimes subtly, sometimes not, the inflections in each sentence, the voice in my head as I read. Take a look at 'coaldust' and 'coal dust' and say them out loud, and really listen. With the first, the emphasis falls on the first syllable, quite strongly. With the second, the emphasis falls more evenly over the two words. So there is a shift in the musicality of the sentence.
But more than that - especially with hyphens - they are so correct. And look at the way I write - I use dashes. Ellipses. Too many hyphens on a page where where there are deliberate dashes calls attention, even more than usual, to the punctuation. At least, it did , to me. So I gave a few pages of 'before and after' to a couple of intelligent readers who know my work. 'Which reads more comfortably'?
Answer, the 'incorrect' one.
So I suppose what I am saying is, cultivate awareness of the effects of everything. Correctness for the sake of it can clash with what the words are saying, changing the visual voice of a piece of fiction. If it needs to be correct, then marvellous. If it doesn't -have at it!
To give a good example from work that is not my own, see Jon McGregor's 'Only The Dogs'. And see the layout of the sections, the white space useage, whole long chapters where the last sentence of each paragraph hangs unfinished before white space. Technically, incorrect. But correct that and you'd ruin the novel, because you'd ruin the voice.