What’s the hardest part about writing for me? If you guessed “voice”, you probably stopped to read the title of this post! Voice is a weird art form, it involves picking and choosing the right words and patterns for your writing, in order to reflect your character.
Now for a person who uses third person omniscient narrative, that really only matters in dialog. You can describe events however you wish, developing a fly on the wall style or what have you, all while showing your writing abilities to their best advantage. You will have a narrative voice, but it will be all your own, and you don’t have to share headspace with anyone else while you’re writing it.
On the other hand, if you write from the first person perspective everything you write has to be filtered through your character, his or her likes, dislikes, personality, vocabulary and moods.
I normally write in the third person, so Heat Wave is something of a deviation from the norm for me. Part of the reason I avoid the first person is my difficulty with voice.
While I do like to tell stories, I often feel that there is one way to tell that story and then refine that method until the story runs like a well oiled machine. Yes, I stand in the shower and tell myself the same story over and over again, so that when it comes time to tell it for real I’ll be able to rattle it off just right, with solid delivery and no pausing. I can be obsessive like that.
While compulsive editing and revising is a good thing for a writer, in my case it has also made me very set in my patterns and habits. Differentiating voice is not always easy for me.
Of course, Heat Wave is told in two voices. As you can probably imagine, developing and maintaining distinct, individual voices for Helix and Circuit was and is challenging, and I’m not really sure they’re as distinct as I would like. While each character has a very concrete list of does and don’ts that dictate what kind of vocabulary, phraseology and tone they should strike, neither one is particularly close to my usual narrative voice. Maintaining their individual quirks and patterns is a constant challenge and requires both vigilance and careful editing.
If you’ve been reading for a while it should come as no surprise that I consider back story to be a big part of understanding voice. A person’s vocabulary and word usage is determined, in no small part, by their family and friends, the people they’ve listened to all their life, combined with their level of education and opinions of others. Their tone is an outgrowth of their personality and circumstances. Generally, once you have these two things down working out voice is just a matter refining, the catch is to keep the voice in mind.
People may look at you weird, but tell yourself stories in the tones and patterns of your characters. Don’t start with anything complicated, like trying to retell part of your novel in a new character’s voice. Just babble about the events of the day, or a funny commercial you saw on TV (assuming you watch TV) or even what you’re seeing at the moment. Then enjoy the weird looks and improved feel for voice!
Oh, and if you have the time, enjoy watching me try to keep Helix and Circuit straight. You wouldn’t think it, but it can be very difficult at times…