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?
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂