QOTW: Voice

1 Apr

This week’s question is from Marina, who asks:

How do you find a voice for you novel? Is it consistent or does it change from one project to the next?

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I find my voice by writing a first draft.  It usually takes me about 50-100 pages to finally hammer down the voice.  Not always, of course!  Sometimes it starts on page 1, but more often than not, I have to settle into the voice by writing.  But once I’ve got it, I’ve got it.  When I read the story aloud, the character literally has a “voice”–a diction unique to that person.

And it’s definitely not consistent from one novel to the next!  Nor is it always consistent in one novel–or rather, the voice can evolve as the character does. In SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY (formerly called THE SPIRIT-HUNTERS), the main character, Eleanor, is a high-society girl who grew up in the 1870s.  She’s somewhat prim and proper with appropriate Victorian slang sprinkled in.  Of course, as the story develops and her character grows closer and closer to the low-society Spirit-Hunters, her diction changes.  She even starts–gasp!–swearing. 🙂

Of course, Eleanor’s voice is nothing like the MC, Echo, in my WIP.  Echo is uneducated and grew up in a harsh, desert-world.  When I read her aloud, it comes out with this (probably hilarious) cowboy kinda twang.

Keep in mind, though, that to some extent your voice will stay consistent. Maybe your dark sense of humor or your preference for short, clipped sentences, or your love of poetic description will show up each time you write.  It’s your story after all, and there’s some defining way about how you create that will shine through in each of your novels.

The Writer Who Lives Next to a Castle!

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Like Sooz, it usually takes me the first 50-100 pages to figure out the voice. Sometimes I’ll hear the voice SO clearly in my head, but it’ll take a bit to learn how to translate that onto the page. Everything from how they narrate to how they interact with others and the world around them all changes from series to series, so when I begin a new book, I spend most of those 50-100 pages rediscovering how THEY see the world, and their place in it.

Some voices come easier than others, though. When I first started writing QUEEN OF GLASS, Celaena’s voice (even told in 3rd person) hit me like a brick in the face. The same goes with A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES–I knew instantly who Feyre (the heroine) was, what she wanted, and how she viewed the world. But then there have been some other projects that took a little longer to figure out. In HADES (a YA retelling of the Greek myths), the title character’s voice was just SO vastly different from anything I’d written that it took me a while to figure her out. And in a recent, top-secret WIP that I started (but had to set aside in order to do my revisions), it took me FOREVER to understand her voice, and how I wanted to present her to the reader.
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So, in short, don’t worry if it takes you longer to find the voice in your book–some voices come easier than others, but that doesn’t mean the ones that take a bit longer are weaker! Don’t be afraid to use those first 100 pages to find the voice (or even the whole first draft)!
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The Writer Who Is Even More Kickass Than Her Heroines (and that’s saying something!)
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I absolutely agree with everything Susan and Sarah said. It can take 1 page or 100. Sometimes you know immediately and sometimes you don’t. I notoriously struggle with voice, not because I don’t know who my characters are, but because I have a hard time sticking with a strongly YA or a strongly Adult feel.

Something I did want to share, however, was how surprised I felt when working on the sleeping beauty retelling after having worked on Nameless for so many years. The writing was still mine, but the way they the Poetess and Rose tell their stories is very different. The Poetess is very emotional; everything revolves around how she is reacting internally to her surroundings. Rose is more interested in what’s happening around her than what she’s feeling; I found myself paying far more attention to the scenery, and character’s movements within it.

Now, as for secondary character’s voices… I don’t usually have too much of a problem with my MC’s, but secondary characters give me a harder time. Maybe it’s because I’m not as interested in them as I am the MC. For example, I recently realized that one of the romantic interests in the Sleeping Beauty retelling had this whole secondary motivation for his actions that I wasn’t aware of until 50k in. I’m going to have to go back now and add in trails of that story so that the reader gets a better feel for him.

So, it’s okay to discover as you go. That’s what First Drafts (Zero Drafts) are for. As you revise you can modify and tighten both your plot and your voice until your character shine through clearly.

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My “voice” definitely changes from novel to novel, but to be honest, I’ve never had to put too much thought into it. Rather, I put effort into making my characters distinct, and the voice flows from that–even if the story isn’t in first person because I write a rather close third. Voice is like the lens through which you see the story world, and it is so, so important to me. Voice can really make or break a story.

But like my fellow LTWF girls, I think that this is something you develop as you write more and more. I know when I first started writing, I tried to imitate writers whose voices I loved–not plot-wise or character-wise, but just in the way they phrased their sentences or crafted their dialogue. Over time, you incorporate more and more writers and do more and more writing of your own until “voice” is something that comes naturally (though that doesn’t mean a new story won’t need a little while to settle into the right voice!) and pretty easily.

I recommend reading books that have great voice (either ones you enjoy a lot yourself or ones that other people recommend) and pick out what it is you love about them. But remember you’re trying to develop your own style, not become the next so-and-so! Study what other writers do, but in the end, you’ve got to make it your own 🙂

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Do you think you’ve discovered your “voice”? Is it consistent from story to story? We want to know!
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16 Responses to “QOTW: Voice”

  1. Marina April 1, 2011 at 1:08 AM #

    Wow, that makes me feel better. Sometimes I get frustrated when I can’t get the voice for my MC right away or even after several chapters, and now I realize that I may be giving up on it too soon. Usually I try to change it and it ends up confusing me even more. Or it sounds awkward because I try to force it. Although in another work, the voice comes quite naturally, and I think it’s because I’ve been working on it consistently without trying to add or force any changes.

    Thanks so much for answering yet another one of my questions!

    • Kat Zhang April 1, 2011 at 9:34 AM #

      I honestly should have put this in my answer, but..I forgot, lol. But for my current WIP, I re-wrote the beginning 3 times–and I mean a real beginning with nothing after it. Once in first person past, then in first person present, and now in third person past. And even in the 3rd draft, I fussed around with 3rd person omniscient for a little while before giving that up…really, I hated the voice for the longest time and didn’t catch my stride until almost 20,000 words later. So now I’m going back to edit the first parts to match the later parts 😉

      On the other hand, the voice for HYBRID has almost changed not at all since i first opened the document…so it all depends! Every story is different, and with something like voice, especially on the first draft, I think it’s just all about sticking with it until the end!

  2. Susan April 1, 2011 at 4:28 AM #

    HAHA

    I love the new tags. Kat’s should be: “The writer who is amazing and eats WIN for breakfast.” Or something comparably rockstar.

    • Kat Zhang April 1, 2011 at 9:35 AM #

      Lol! ❤ Sooz! ;P

  3. authorguy April 1, 2011 at 6:12 AM #

    My goal as the author is to be as invisible as possible. The story is told mostly from the point of view of some character, so I have to know how that character thinks and speaks before I can do anything with him. However, the characters change during the course of the story so the voices change too.

    Marc Vun Kannon
    http://authorguy.wordpress.com

    • Kat Zhang April 2, 2011 at 4:51 PM #

      A change in voice is a great way to indicate character change 🙂

  4. Aurora Blackguard April 1, 2011 at 7:14 AM #

    LOLS! I’m with Sooz, I love love love Savannah’s tag! I find it so hard with voice because it always feels like the voices sound the same! I don’t always know if this character reacts differently from how another character would act

    • Susan April 1, 2011 at 8:38 AM #

      Maybe having other people read your stuff would help you find if your characters sound distinct? Or just reading out loud — that really helps me get a handle on voice…

  5. Rowenna April 1, 2011 at 9:11 AM #

    Love the new tags! You ladies are all rock stars 🙂

    I’m with Kat–I feel like voice flows from character–but I tend to write “in my character’s head” so to speak, either limited third or (gasp–I just started doing this for the first time and it’s scary!) first person. So how they see the world is how the world is on the page, and with it, all the nuance that lends to language. It would be fun to play with a voice totally distinct from the characters–I think I’d fail, but it would be fun!

    Sav, I’m with you–I have a hard time drawing a line between YA and adult. I think this is because when I was 17 I was 45 in my head and now that I’m 26 I’m 17 in my head again… 😛

    • Kat Zhang April 2, 2011 at 4:53 PM #

      I used to write primarily in third person, but then I wrote two novels in first and changing back into third for my wip took a little (a lot!) getting used to! Third person limited is pretty close to first, I think, but it does give that layer of separation that is nice sometimes. You’re just far away enough where you can get away with summing up an emotion with a nice line or two instead of feeling every heartbeat 🙂

  6. Casie April 1, 2011 at 11:17 AM #

    I think Sarah nailed it for me. I’m writing about a character whose voice I seem to know so well in my head but it’s so hard to use the right words to convey his personality. I haven’t finished writing the story yet so hopefully I can improve. Thanks for the post. . .this was really insightful! =)

    • Kat Zhang April 2, 2011 at 4:53 PM #

      We’re glad you liked it!

  7. Gabriela Da Silva April 1, 2011 at 2:00 PM #

    When I began writing my novel, I was TOTALLY convinced the narrative voice would be cynical, satirical, a little in the vein of Terry Pratchett’s voice. My characters would suffer but the voice would be all “LOL emo!! Look how he cries lol!”.

    Then… the story got darker. And I forgot about the voice having to be funny. I made a lot of changes, but then I had to do MANY MANY more. I remember, in fact, when an editor took a look at it – he wasn’t going to publish it, but he was a friend of my family a very kindly offered to give me a pro’s POV.

    Next to a paragraph, where the narrator mocked the character’s lack of knowledge about the world, he wrote: “Oh RIGHT, I forgot geo-politics are the worst subjects to take at orphanages! That girl should’ve gone for Finance, instead.”

    That made me laugh – and realize that my narrator and my story were going in different directions. I re-wrote most of the first half because of that, and believe my book came out better. I don’t think that voice will stick with me forever – it will change according to point of view (duh!), theme and public. But it was an interesting lesson at least 🙂

    • sdennard April 1, 2011 at 3:02 PM #

      I can so relate to this Gabriela! I wrote the first draft of SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY with this (just like you!) satirical, tongue-in-cheek, almost goofy voice…and it really didn’t jive with ZOMBIES and GHOSTS and PEOPLE DYING. Like, didn’t jive at all.

      When I rewrote it, the voice was muuuuuuuuch darker, more serious. Yes, Eleanor the MC still has her “witty” moments, but as a whole, the tone is reflects the dark content of the story.

      Definitely an interesting but necessary lesson to learn!

  8. Ellen April 1, 2011 at 3:56 PM #

    The largest part of the editing I had to do for the novel I’m querying involved changing the POV because the voice wasn’t working. I started with two separate characters in 1st person, only to be told that they didn’t sound different enough. (This critique partner was totally correct, by the way.)

    Cue me switching the whole thing to a mix of third limited and third omniscient so the voice could be more uniform and not have people going, “But why do two totally different people sound exactly the same?”

    Sigh. I guess the point of this long ramble is that all of you are correct. Usually it takes me forever to get the voice right, so it’s nice to hear I’m not the only one who sometimes struggles with this.

    • Susan April 2, 2011 at 12:08 PM #

      Oh, Ellen, I did something similar! The first TWO DRAFTS of SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY are in 3rd person! It wasn’t until my CP (also correctly!) told me she couldn’t quite connect with the MC that I changed the whole thing to first… Turns out that book NEEDED to be in first with only a single POV!

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