SMC: Voice

This was a panel given by agent Michelle Witte, who has also authored a couple of books. One is The Craptastic Guide to Pseudo-Swearing, something you children’s, MG, and even some YA writers may find valuable. The other is The Faker’s Guide to the Classics, a snarky version of cliff notes for those who want to up on the classics, but don’t have the time to read them. Having read some of the Craptastic Guide, Witte’s snark is something you’ll find extremely enjoyable. They’re both available to Kindle sample, so give ’em a try.

Okay, NOTES:

She said there’s three parts to writing that form the “story” triangle of sorts:

  1. Voice
  2. Writing
  3. Plot

Two areas of the “triangle” can be bigger than the other. But if one is big while the other two remain weak it may be why your story falls flat.

CHARACTER

Character is the central part of voice. It’s the character who brings voice out onto the page.

“The writer’s voice in a novel generally belongs to a character.” –Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

There are two kinds of voice: the writer’s voice and the voice of an individual book. The main character defines the voice of the book.

Take Mary Higgins Clark, for example. Her novels all sound the same. Your writing is what works for you. Each book should have its own unique voice.

POINT OF VIEW

She used Mark Twain’s Diary of Adam and Eve as examples to show how points of view can change the tone and voice of the story.

Adam’s voice:

MONDAY.–This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way. It is always hanging around and following me about. I don’t like this; I am not used to company. I wish it would stay with the other animals…. Cloudy today, wind in the east; think we shall have rain…. WE? Where did I get that word– the new creature uses it.

Eve’s Voice:

SATURDAY.– I am almost a whole day old, now. I arrived yesterday. That is as it seems to me. And it must be so, for if there was a day-before-yesterday I was not there when it happened, or I should remember it. It could be, of course, that it did happen, and that I was not noticing. Very well; I will be very watchful now, and if any day-before-yesterdays happen I will make a note of it. It will be best to start right and not let the record get confused, for some instinct tells me that these details are going to be important to the historian some day. For I feel like an experiment, I feel exactly like an experiment; it would be impossible for a person to feel more like an experiment than I do, and so I am coming to feel convinced that that is what I AM–an experiment; just an experiment, and nothing more.

Okay guys, million-dollar idea. Somebody write the diary of Darth Vader for the original trilogy. Can you imagine? I bet it would be awesome. It kind of reminds me of this.

NARRATION

What are the kinds of narration?

  • 1st Person narration
  • Narrator as a character
  • 3rd person omniscient
  • 3rd Person Close

Her example: Savannah Grey

Voice is something you can bring out in yourself. The trick is to not concentrate on it. – Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Experiment with different tenses, voice, POVs and find the one that best fits your novel.

Think of your characters as people. Think of your character as a person you could meet and go hang out with. Think about them as a whole person and not just their part in the story.

Your characters don’t need to be quirky or weird to stand out. It should be what’s best for your story. Don’t go too far where they become inauthentic. Don’t fall into stereotypes—where they become one-dimensional characters.

Be quietly distinct. Make your characters known to the readers. But don’t let your authorial voice overtake the voice of your characters.

MONOLOGUE & DIALOGUE

Give an immediate sense of who a character is by what they think and say. Think carefully about word choice. What words fit this character? What words can you use to tell us things about your character simply because of the words you chose.

TIPS FOR GETTING A FLAT STORY BACK UP

REWRITE IT

  • Rewrite the first chapter from memory
  • Rewrite the first chapter form a different POV
  • Rewrite a scene from each main character’s viewpoint

DESCRIPTION

  • Actions can be powerful indicators of personality
  • Convey emotion in your writing, use strong verbs
  • Create characters who readers can connect with

Life is in the details. The way you really get a character across is by the small little things. For example, a scratch on the car—one person’s reaction is fury, the other is meh.

*****

I asked her which books she thought did this well and she recommended The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente. She mentioned a woman made up of soap and a city made entirely of ribbons, so I immediately sought out a sample on my Kindle. It’s in the queue, but if you’d read it, I’d love to know what you thought.

What did you learn about voice? Any tips you would add?

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9 thoughts on “SMC: Voice

  1. Okay, freaky. You are the third blog post I read today and the second person to mention THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING. Is this possibly a sign?

  2. I bought “The Girl Who…” book purely on the cover and title alone a while back, but still haven’t read it – I’m putting it at the top of my list now. 😉

    Thanks for all these great tips! One thing I love about John Green’s books is how his characters each have their own unique way of speaking – he said he thinks of characters in terms of dialogue first, and uses that to build them up, and it definitely shows.

    • I have the sample, but I’ve been trying to read some library books before their time is up. I’m sure I’ll get to it soon. It sounds amazing!

      I need to read some John Green books it sounds like!

  3. Tehe, that voice of Eve is cute!

    Ooh, question: do you think that if a character speaks formally, say, without contractions, that they also [always?] ‘see the world’ in that voice, too? This is something I’ve debated over because it makes for quite laborious reading (and writing!)?

    Oh, and is internal voice the same as narratory voice in third close? In 1st, the division is clearer in my head because there’s, for instance, Agnetha narrating what happened and then her internal monologue comes in (in italics) with a snarky comment to add. Because I don’t do this in WTCB, I’m less clear on the whens, hows and whats.

    • I don’t know that you necessarily describe things to the T with dialogue or internalizing. But you have to ask yourself, how would say Phillip see this room? What are the first things he would notice? You look at a person and you might say: oh, great hair do. But Phillip might notice their clothes first and say, Ugh, did you shop at the second hand store? Catch my meaning?

      As for internal voice in 3rd close. Good question. Use JK as the example. She does it well. It’s Harry’s point of view, so Harry describes his world according to how he sees it (even though it’s not like it reads Harry thought this looked like, etc.) Is that helpful?

      • Thanks for the pointers. They are helpful. That’s true. The example you told me a while back about a sunset described as sick has stuck with me.

        I’m trying to do that at the moment in a short story about Rion. He sees eveything with a critical eye, whereas the other character is more inclined to notice, say, a tartan jacket hanging over the bannister than how scuffed the floor is. I think I’m getting the hang of doing this more in my recent writing…now I just have to edit When the Clock Broke to make sure it reads that way, too…! 😮

        Good old JK. 😉

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