There is music in our words. Or should I say, there should be music in our words. Poets know this. In poems every word counts, each one working on several different levels. They must not only convey the right meaning, but also have the right number of syllables, the right stresses, the right rhymes. Ultimately they must have–the right sound.
Picture book writers also know the value of each word. With such a tight word count, every one is carefully chosen. Like a poem, a picture book is meant to be heard. The best picture books can be read over and over, their words, a song shared by both the reader and the listener.
But what of longer works, novels are seldom read aloud, do their words have music? The answer is, if they are truly well written, they do. Even though a novelist can’t consciously agonize over every one of the thousands of words in his work, the music must be there. It lies in that mystical, indefinable quality called voice.
Writers quest after voice like knights searching for the Holy Grail. What is it? How do we get it? If we think about it, it becomes less mysterious. Why is it called voice? Voice implies sound, but written words are read not heard. That is where we make a mistake. Words always have sound, whether read aloud or heard within the mind of the reader. Realizing this, it becomes clear what voice is. Voice is nothing more or less than the author’s choice of words and the sounds and rhythms created by those choices, over and above the meanings of the words. It is the author singing his song, the music of his words.
That is why voice cannot be taught. It is something developed with time and practice. Novelists choose each and every word just as surely as poets do. But because of the large number of words, we do it subconsciously. We use the poetic techniques of assonance and alliteration. We chose words with the right stresses and syllables. We vary the length of our sentences. We use harsh consonants or long smooth vowels. We learn, after years of writing, to hear the song in our heads, our words have music, and we find our voice.