What is “the voice” in the book Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat?
Elizabeth Wrozek, curator of the Henry Hauser Museum in Sierra Vista, asked that great question in the June 15th discussion and book-signing at the museum. My simple answer: The boy is narrating the story as it happens. He knows only what he’s seen and heard, and he’s not going to tell you any more until he knows it.
WROZEK: A thing that I’m impressed with is the voice that you use in the story. Now you’ve been a news reporter, and you’ve worked as an editor, so you know quite a bit about that. But when you’re reading the book, and you’re a grown man who’s looking back on his childhood and writing from that child’s perspective, the voice in it is so well done, and you forget you’re actually reading the words of a grown man.
WARNER: Elizabeth, you caught something there. A few editors I know have read the book and mentioned the point that you’re bringing up, the voice. There are very few books written from the voice of the child. It’s usually someone, an adult’s voice, describing the child. Huckleberry Finn is one of the exceptions. It’s in Huck Finn’s voice. He’s got that dialect, the Missouri dialect, the Southern dialect. I don’t use a dialect in my book because I spoke pretty ordinary American English as a boy. My mother was terrific with words, reciting poetry all the time, and my father was a good writer himself.
So I hope my voice is very plain and clear in the book, and it is from the perspective of a boy, initially seven years old and growing to 12 by the end of the story. I tried to keep to that. I said to myself, this is going to be the boy talking – me, but only how I felt then, and I wouldn’t describe anything I didn’t know at the time, or anything I wouldn’t know within a few days. If I found out something important 10 days later, I might mention that for perspective, but you’re finding out, in the book, what I’m learning as I learn it.
First-person limited. The first-person pronoun “I” tells the reader that the story is coming from the main character’s point of view. From a “first-person omniscient” perspective, an author could choose to describe all sorts of things the main character couldn’t know. But I don’t do that in Tumbleweed Forts. My book is from a “first-person limited” voice.
In my book, if the main character doesn’t know whether he’ll get in trouble for not doing his homework, or whether the steam-shovelers will find gold in Huachuca Canyon, the reader doesn’t find out either -- not until the character finds out.
To me, the first-person limited voice seems the best way to keep the reader thinking from the youngster’s perspective. The reader is in the boy’s shoes, and imagines how the boy is responding to every new adventure, acting with no knowledge of what happens next.
The in-the-moment voice is intended to build some exciting tension and give the reader a few extra surprises. I hope it works.
Photo: Huachuca Canyon as seen from Reservoir Hill in Fort Huachuca, Arizona