Monday, June 23, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Tip #13 - Look Who's Talking - What is Voice?

When it comes to writing there are two kinds of "voice": the author's voice and character voice. 

Trying to teach someone how to write Author's voice is like trying to teach someone how to hold onto a slippery amphibian--it's a hard concept to grab onto. Author's voice is the feel of a book, what make's it distinctively one writer's story over another. It's the choice of words and flow; it's the cadence and style.  The elements of voice are hard to pinpoint. Think about John Grisham or Stephen King, Danielle Steele or Helen Fielding (or for YA examples, Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, John Green, etc)--all great writers, but completely different in style. You know when you're reading a John Grisham book, just what kind of book to expect. Not because of branding, but because of how he writes.

How do you find your voice? By writing. I remember the moment when I realized, Hey, This is my voice! It happened after I had written a lot of different stuff. In fact, I'll admit it happened while writing CLOCKWISE. Everything I wrote before that lack a certain something. Mostly I was copying other writers that I admired. My work sounded a lot like whatever author I'd been reading at the time. Then suddenly, my work started sounding like me.

This doesn't mean a writer can only write in one genre. Once you've found your voice it'll follow you, no matter the genre.

For Character voice,  we're talking about something different. We're talking about what each and every one of your characters talk and act like.  Beginning writers often default to the character voice they know best, their own. They have a very strong tendency to give all their characters their own personality. They all say whatever is said, the way the author herself would say them. Do you know what I mean? Have you done this? 

So when writing character voice, you need to know your characters a little bit before starting. Do they have a chip on their shoulder? Are they depressed? Are they in love? Are they fighters? Or givers?  You need to know something that will shape how your characters speak. See the chapter on Felt Need for more on this.

I just finished a light paranormal YA novel where the main character starts off the story overly self-confident. Of course this attribute is shaken up as the story progresses, but it shapes how she sees the world and it comes through in her voice, whether it's inner dialogue or spoken word.

What I sometimes do in second to final drafts, and what I did with this ms, is go through each main and secondary character's conversations from start to finish, by putting their name in FIND. You should be able to identify each speaker by how they talk, and not just by the dialogue tag.

For instance, in this ms I had three characters vying for the protag's attention (for differing reasons). One character was the boy next door, the guy the MC grew up with. He spoke with a lot of slang like gonna, wanna, and modern vernacular. The main love interest was more formal with his behavior and speech and the one who turned out to be the antagonist was very forward and brash in his encounters with the MC.

As I searched for each of their names, I checked to make sure that each one had his own speech pattern. I had to make some adjustments at this point. It's interesting to note that I wasn't aware of these distinctives as I started the first draft--their characters defined themselves in the writing. I honed in on their differences in the revision process.

 How do you define voice?

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