by Kelsey O’Kelley
The way the that a story’s speaker voices his or her ideas and events in a story has been something I’ve been concentrating on in my writing this semester and it has also been something on which I’ve always focused. While some writers might strive for a riveting plotline or witty dialogue, I have always been mesmerized by writers that conjure images and relatable emotions in simple phrases. Therefore, I’d like to analyze the use of voice in Sebastian Langdell’s “You, You, You”, published in the Spring 2013 issue of Witness.
The main character’s first-person voice in “You, You, You” very appropriately uses the second-person “you” to address his lover throughout the story. The plot follows the speaker through his reflection upon first meeting his lover, then traveling briefly, and then meeting her again, describing a few specific days that they spent together early on in the relationship. The speaker seems to be addressing the girl that he is dating, or “Bill”, throughout the story. This is evident by the end of the first paragraph in which the speaker concludes that, during his travels, “I just kinda missed you.”
In addition to addressing “you” throughout the story, the speaker’s voice is conversational and candid. The speaker describes one of his destinations in a stream-of-consciousness way: “it was great, I mean it was incredible (it was kind of like LA too), but after all of that, I mean, I kinda just missed you.” The speaker’s free-flowing voice gives the story a realistic feeling as if the reader is in the speaker’s mind, such as when he is discussing words with Bill: “But, I ask, does it count as coining if you just add an “un” in front of another word that already exists? Is that a half-coin? What is that? A tuppence?” The lines used are written in a way that mirrors the unedited and unorganized way that everyone’s mind thinks and the way most people speak.
Another aspect of Langdell’s use of voice is his pacing, which is aided by his comma use. A good example of the pacing is this sentence: “You win, actually, but before we exchange fates, or wishes, or whatever, we’re kissing again, and you ask what it was like in the first place.” This rhythm is lyrical, and again, mimics the way a person thinks, in bits and pieces of thought and information.
Langdell’s voice and pacing also includes vibrant descriptions and specifics that help make the story come to life. Langdell describes scenarios in images, as opposed to telling the reader what his characters feel, such as showing playfulness in the line “I say I love you into a walkie-talkie receiver I pretend is in my hand. In the kitchen, you make a staticky noise and say it back” or by showing jealousy and recovery in the line “I guess what I mean is that I’m glad that, when he touches your waist when you’re bending over by the fridge, you make a point of straightening up and stepping just out of reach, and squeezing my hand moments later, and making a static noise in my ear”. Langdell makes it easy for his readers to understand the main character’s emotions without explicitly stating any emotion at all.
What can we learn from Langdell’s piece? I think the best tips from “You, You, You” are to play with pacing and personality as well as to sprinkle specifics into a story to make the characters human. Details like “I say I love you into a walkie-talkie receiver I pretend is in my hand. In the kitchen, you make a staticky noise and say it back” give originality and personality to characters without describing them word-for-word. Another example is the line “I say this to you, and you say, ‘How do you mean?’ in the way that means, basically, ‘I don’t agree.’” This tells readers the kaleidoscope of relationship dynamics in a single sentence. “You, You, You” gives depth and life to a realistic scene where readers can observe human emotion in a raw, candid, and still fictional way.