I’ve had a number of people ask me about “finding their voice,” so maybe it’s time to visit that question again.
The first thing that I have to say is that there is a difference between author voice and character voice. The author voice is something that expresses itself unconsciously across multiple works. It’s what enables someone to recognize an author’s work regardless of what they’re writing about. That’s not a bad thing. It’s similar to the way that we can identify the voice of a friend on the telephone. Author voice is unique and largely unconscious. It comes from your life, education, and point of view, and it includes:
- Formality and humor
- Attitude, emotion, and outlook
- Word choice and phrasing
- Syntax and sentence length
- Mood, tone, and pacing
- Resonance and rhythm
- Grammar and punctuation
Character voice is something that is usually more conscious. It comes from a place deep within each character in the book, including the narrator, and while it includes many of the same elements as author voice, those elements develop out of the character’s life and outlook on life.
Three Steps for Nailing Voice
- Choose your tense. Does your story call for the immediacy and uncertainty of the present tense, or do you want to provide the distance and relative security of past tense? (In a present tense story, even the narrator doesn’t know what’s going to happen, whereas with past tense, we expect that at least the narrator came through the story.)
- Choose your point of view. Do you want your narrator to know everything, including things the characters don’t know? Third person omniscient would be a good choice. (See Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor for a lovely example.) Want to get really intimate with one character at a time? Try first person. Or, if you want to be able to shift the camera lens in and out, you can do a deep point of view in third person limited. (Like my Compulsion.)
- Know who is speaking really well. Whether you’re speaking as the narrator, or as the character, you need to be aware of the person and opinions behind the words.
Slipping into Character
Getting to know your characters is the critical aspect here. And that takes more than just doing the cursory work about their background. It takes knowing what the character feels and sees and things about every situation.
- What do they want?
- What motivates them?
- What do they notice in a given situation?
- What do they not notice?
- What do they feel about the people and locations around them?
- How educated are they? How do they speak?
- How do they express themselves? Do they use an economy of words, or do they speak eloquently? What is their frame of reference for comparisons and how they see the world? Are they artistic? Overly-emotional? Sophisticated? Free spirited? Focused on pure logic?
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