What I Learned from Damon Runyon
I learned “voice” from reading Damon Runyon. A unique writing voice will intrigue readers and encourage them to keep reading. On the websites of agents who represent writers, many of them state they are looking for novels with distinct voices.
I loved how Mr. Runyon tried to recreate the dialect of Prohibition and Depression eras New York with unusual rhythm and slang. His style is so different he probably wouldn’t get published today.
The best way for me to write in a unique voice is in first-person. My main character is Junior Lody, a shy, intelligent sixteen-year-old living in the remote mountains of contemporary West Virginia. I try to use words only he would use. So even though he is smart and likes to read, I don’t want to use big words that would make him sound like an adult. For example, he wouldn’t a call girl “effervescent “. He’d say “She was as bubbly as a shaken bottle of pop.” “Pop” is the word for carbonated drinks in West Virginia and using colorful metaphors and similies is also common in that state. I also think a teenager would use figures of speech instead of long words.
Sprinkling in regional words and slang makes it seem like the characters are actually from West Virginia. “Sprinkling” is the rule to live by. If I tried to reproduce the Appalachian accent exactly, I think readers would get so bogged down in deciphering it that they would lost interest. So I just scatter in key words, such as using “y’uns” and dropping “g” off “ing” words. I want the key words to flavor my writing, not be the whole recipe.
In that way, I think I give Junior a unique voice, which I owe to reading Mr. Runyon’s Broadway stories.