What is plot? It’s a dynamic narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. It’s like a good pop song. It has to have a hook. Sometimes that hook is the narrator’s voice. Huckleberry Finn succeeds mostly on the strength of Huck’s voice, by which I mean the way he presents words. In other words, it’s not the meat, it’s the motion. It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it. Huck comes alive through his words, which are fresh and immediate. We feel we know Huck. Same thing with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. It’s that world-weary, cynical with a heart-of-gold voice whispering in your ear. “He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.” Chandler also said, “A good story cannot be devised, it has to be distilled.” In other words, start with character and let character find the plot.

Story also requires a seductive narrative voice. Both Twain and Chandler had seductive narrative voices. Note that they often wrote in the first person, shining a light on their souls. Which is not to say those men were angels. Philip Roth has a seductive first person narrative voice but is unable to sustain personal relationships. There are three voices: I said, you said, and he said. Forget the second person. It’s irritating. The only hang-up with first person is that all our information comes from a single point of view. This has been no detriment to such great pulp writers as Randy Wayne White and John D. MacDonald, who is the reason I write today. But when you choose a third person voice, it gives you the option of omniscience, the ability to describe the impressions and feelings of multiple people within a single scene. This takes skill and requires a certain emotional distance. Arthur C. Clarke, Conn Iggulden, and Kevin J. Anderson are masters of the third person.

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