One of the most important things in fiction is the writer’s voice. It’s what brings back readers to their favorite writer time and again, and it’s also one of the major factors that give a story its unique vibe. Not to mention that his voice is a writer’s fictional DNA, that sets him apart and embeds his perspective in everything he writes.
But also very important in every work of fiction are the characters’ voices, and these should be even more interesting and compelling than the writer’s.
Finding your own distinctive voice, especially if you’re relatively new to writing (or have just switched genres or language) is not as easy as it may seem. The temptation to allign your tone and wordchoice to that of your favorite books, or even to that of the people you frequently converse with, can be overwhelming. We all know how intoxicating someone’s style of speach, choice of expressions and even tone can be.
When you’re a writer, and like all writers have an oversensitive observatory mind and the tendency to mimic things you fancy and launch into mental experiments that could get you admitted should they be exposed, you are probably susceptible to the voice of every other writer you admire. I know I am. It takes me some exorcising and loud music (or a really bad sitcom) to clear my system of another writer’s voice, so I can continue writing my own stuff and sound like myself.
Understanding and learning how to effectively use your own unique writing voice is not an overnight process and requires quite a bit of practice. It also requires letting go of most rules and limitations that come with the genre or language you’re writing in. And, let’s be honest, it requires a bit of nerve to push through bad influences and role-models alike. When you’ve cleared the clutter and have chiseled your own voice and style, the delight and writing pleasure are all the more wonderful.
But once you’ve found your voice, and have learned to wield it like a razor-sharp sword, the next hurdle is to let it go again.
That’s right. You have to be able to slip out of your own voice, and write in someone else’s voice, that of your POV character(s).
There are a great many ways in which you can come up with unique character voices, along with their very own special personalities, resumes and perspectives on life. Hell, creating a well-rounded, realistic character is damn hard detail work, and it requires quite a bit of psychological finesse. Just like every person and writer has his own unique voice, so does every character. Many writers spend days, maybe even weeks, fleshing out and getting to understand their characters, especially protagonist and antagonist, and sometimes even secondary characters.
This process continues well into the drafting stage. It goes on even when you edit.
This is the stage where you have to pay an extra attention to differentiating not only between the characters’ voices, but also between their individual voices and your own. This is extremely important, and unfortunately often neglected.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly normal for a bit of the writer’s voice to seep into the protagonist’s, that’s fine. After all, you spend many weeks writing from their perspective. But you must be aware of that leakage, and manage it carefully.
I’ve read a great many novels, from budding writers as well as experienced ones, from tentative storytellers to deliberate and adept ones, who displayed inconsistencies in this area. It’s probably not visible to the majority of readers, but it most likey is to other writers, and—let’s get really big on this one here—award boards and comittees (don’t hit me), and it’s such a pity to miss taking care of such issues beforehand.
You’ve finished writing your draft, got wasted and ran butt-naked down the street screaming at the top of your lungs that you’re king of the world, and now you’re in the first revision (aka rewrite) stage, and you’re checking your manuscript for plot holes, flawed logic and inconsistent characterization. And here’s the moment you should really listen to your characters, read the work out loud and listen to their voices, and rewrite all passages where they sound more like you than themselves. If you can’t figure these spots out, ask one of your beta readers, who knows you well and is familiar with your work, to look for exactly such passages. Everyone has them, believe me, even the veterans. You’re no unicorn among horses, and neither am I. In fact, I think I’m the molting mule, but let’s get on with the matter.
I know, this is yet another thing you have to look out for, and blah blah busy bee buzz. As if rewrites and edits aren’t pure hell with a cherry on top anyway. But this is an aspect of writing prose that doesn’t get enough attention in my opinion. I would damn right love to meet more characters with voices that are absolutely clean and personal and unmistakeably their own. The world needs more obsessive rewriters!
Hail the rewrite!
Okay. Now you can hit me.
Oh, look, a patch of fur just came off.
There are a great many things writers must take care of when working on a story, and it can get tedious and damn right nauseating sometimes, but it’s all worth it. All our nerve-wrecking, tear-jerking, finger-breaking effort is sooo worth it, because in the end we create a world from scratch, populated by real people with real problems, who have the power to enrich the reader’s experience of life, and that makes everything worth it. What does it matter then that we spent an extra week swallowing down our own ego and our precious voices, and making Jane Protag’s pipe whistle a sharper note?
So what do you think? Do you distinguish your characters’ voices from your own? How deep do you go into the psychology and mannerisms of your protagonist, and do you create her in your own image or make her an individual in her own right?