Just like I said your plot is a means to test the character (and I’ll be happy to explain that later, or the others can, I’m sure), the voice is a means to make the character live. You must have the reader present THERE, or it’s all for nothing.
I’m going on about this, because it’s all too easy to slip into what I call “sheet of glass” writing if you’re tired or sick, and then you need to have some idea what’s wrong and how to fix it.
I’m going to be insufferable and give examples from my own writing – well, one of them a collaboration with my friend, Kate Paulk who will be joining us soon.
Kate and I were working on this story (in the Valdemar Antho above) while we were both on deadline for other projects and so tired we might as well have painted eyes on our eyelids and slept through it. So the first version of the opening we came up with was this:
*Heart, Home and Hearth
The air smelled of snow to come. Ree snuggled closer to Jem in the burrow they had claimed for the night and wished he knew what to do. Summer learning to live wild, putting more and more distance between them and the walls of Jacona — and the Emperor’s soldiers — had been hard on Jem.
The younger boy was all human, unlike Ree. He didn’t have fur to protect him, didn’t have the sharper senses of the rat and cat that had merged with Ree in the Changecircle last winter. Since they’d escaped Jacona and the hunt for hobgoblins like Ree, Jem had grown thinner until his bones showed under his skin even though between Ree’s animal instincts and Jem getting wicked good with a slingshot they had plenty to eat most days.
But that was summer. Fall meant less to eat, and Jem’s clothes weren’t much better than rags. When it started to get colder at night, they’d tried scraping a deer hide clean and Jem wrapping himself in that, but it stank too much and got stiff and cracked. Neither of them wanted to leave the forest to try to steal clothes from the farms and towns they’d seen from the forest edges. *
It’s not bad, but we felt like you could hear the telegraph cables twang along the way. So we worked on it. This is the same opening in its final version:
*Heart, Home and Hearth
Sarah A. Hoyt
The air had a sharp bite and you could smell snow even deep in the narrow earthen borrow, under the roots of a great oak tree, where Ree and Jem had taken refuge.
Winter is coming, Ree thought. There’s no escaping it. He felt Jem shake with cough in his sleep, and snuggled closer, trying to keep the younger boy warm. Summer had been all right for living wild and putting more and more ground between themselves and Jacona — and the Emperor’s soldiers.
Even though Jem was all human and didn’t have the sharper senses of the rat and cat that had merged with Ree during the Changecircle last winter, he had got wicked good with a slingshot. With Ree’s animal instincts to lead the hunt, they’d rarely missed a meal. But the last few weeks, it had gotten so cold, and it seemed like all animals were either hybernating or had gone South for the winter. And you could see Jem’s bones through his skin. Hells you could see them through the rags that passed for his clothes. And he was cold all the time, and for the last three days he’d been coughing all the time, and wheezing when they walked too fast.*
Do you see a difference? Is there a difference? Am I imagining things?
Again, the same, with my own writing, the novel DarkShip Thieves coming out in January. This is the original run at the opening:
* Daddy’s Girl
I never wanted to go to Space. I never had the slightest interest in spaceships. The colonization of other worlds left me cold. I never even hankered to visit Circum-Terra or to see the energy trees up close, by the faint glow of almost-ripe energy pods.
There were people who dreamed of all of this. They cornered me at parties and social occasions — adenoidal boys, skinny and overeager, with greasy hair and lumpy suits; and sad girls, awkward in dresses, their faces white and pasty and virgin of make up.
They talked of space-materials — ceramite and dimatough — strong enough to withstand travel through the void and light enough to consume very little fuel. They spoke of thrusters, acceleration, g-force, gravitation, sustainable space colonies.
Their eyes grew doleful, and their voices vibrated with tears when they spoke of how the human race had abandoned its birthright to outer space after the turmoils two hundred years ago.
In the late twenty second century, they’d tell me, their faces earnest, the mules had built an intergalactic spaceship and they’d made plans for colonizing the solar system in fifty years.*
This is the version that WILL be published:
I never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in discovering the truth about the darkships. You always get what you don’t ask for.
Which was why I woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in my father’s space cruiser.
Before full consciousness, I knew there was an intruder in my cabin. Not rationally. There was no rationality to it. The air smelled as it always did on shipboard, as it had for the week I’d spent here – stale, with the odd tang given by the recycling.
The engines, below me, hummed steadily. We had just detached from Circum Terra – a maneuver that involved some effort, to avoid accidentally ramming the station or the ship. Shortly we’d be Earth bound, though slowing down and reentry let alone landing, for a ship this size, would take close to a week.
My head felt a little light, my stomach a little queasy, from the artificial grav. Yes, I know. Scientists say that’s impossible. They say artificial gravity is just like true gravity to the senses. You don’t feel a thing. They are wrong. Artificial grav always made me feel a little out of balance, like a couple of shots of whiskey on an empty stomach.
Even before waking fully, I’d tallied all this. There was nothing out of the ordinary. And yet there was a stranger in my cabin.*
So, again am I imagining things, or does the second one work better? And if it does, can we discuss why? Why the character comes more alive in the second version than in the first of both of these?