Saturday, March 7, 2009


Renni Browne and Dave King have a book out called SELF EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS. One of the chapters discusses voice, and to make their point, they cite two passages.

PASSAGE #1: It was the middle of a bright tropical afternoon that we made good our escape from the bay. The vessel we sought lay with her main-topsail aback about a league from the land and was the only object that broke the broad expanse of the ocean.

PASSAGE #2: Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the water part of the world.

Herman Melville wrote both of these sea-faring passages, each introducing a novel. What are the differences in the two passages? The first appeared in a book called OMOO that he penned four years prior to the second. As Browne and King point out, the OMOO passage has a bit of intrigue to it (an escape) and details a boat. It’s a great opening to a book.

The second passage, which has been practically immortalized, comes from MOBY DICK. It’s rather irresistible, and the reason is its voice. Ishmael lures us into the story.

By the time Melville wrote MOBY DICK, he’d already written three more books since OMOO. A good writer works on developing his/her storytelling voice. Sculpting a voice takes time. It’s not just us that is speaking, it is our character. Patience.

So, speaking of patience, I’m off to help take a group of grade school boys hiking at Dinosaur Valley State Park. If I survive and return, we’ll blog again tomorrow! More patience …


  1. That is perhaps THE most famous openning line ever penned by an American author. Thanks for posting and good luck with the hike.

  2. Hope you had a great time hiking!
    I loved Self Editing for Fiction writers and totally remember this exact part!

  3. I'd agree Marty. I think even those that haven't read it know it.

  4. Hi PJ, I'm back and alive and tired. I did, however, have a great time. That's cool that you've read their book. I like it b/c of all the examples.