I’m linking to an excellent post on Deep POV at Live, Write, Thrive that got me thinking about voice. Writers need to do more to guard their voices–too often I see writers looking for outside validation or trying to write like someone else. Now it’s fine to have those experimental phases–I certainly did. I had my Edgar Allen Poe phase and my Ray Bradbury phase and my Dorothy Sayer phase and my Georgette Heyer phase. I finally wrote enough to start developing my own voice, and I can now look back at my past work and think “at last” because it all sounds like my voice. And like my characters voices.
Character voice can be tough. Some characters show up right away, others have to be coaxed into revealing their voice. Character voice can be there on page one or may not be there until page one hundred. A common mistake I see as well is a writer inserting the writer’s voice into what should be the middle of the character’s thoughts or dialogue–that’s an interruption that can throw the reader. That’s where editing comes into play–and developing the writer’s ear.
This is where I think writers can develop their own voice–in editing. Voice comes out through word choice and through structure of sentences and paragraphs. All that is best tuned in editing. I will often to an edit just on one character to make sure that character’s voice is there on the page–and that I haven’t stepped on that voice with my own. I’ll save my voice for places where narrative is more important, as in transitions, setting up scenes, or places where I may need to slow the pace a touch or weave in vital plot exposition. Character voices need to show up in their dialogue and their thoughts–and that’s where I need to make certain I am not putting in that very clever phrase that I thought up, which doesn’t match the character’s personality, mood, or step on what their attention should be focused on.
An example of this is where the writer says something like “she never noticed the gum stuck to the bottom of her shoe”. Well, if she’s not noticing this and we’re in her POV why is this here? Much more effective to write, “she heard the snick of the gum sticking the sole of her shoe to the polished wood floor–with every step, her face heated, but she couldn’t stop to scrape it off.” Now we’re in the character’s POV.
This is where the phrase “kill your darlings” comes into play as well. We all come up with those oh so clever lines that just don’t fit a character. Wonderful descriptions are great–but they should be there to serve the character’s voice as well. They can be revealing–and not just darling lines that we fall in love with that really need to be cut. Again, we’re back to learning to edit your own work.
For that, I recommend Browne & King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers–a wonderful book. The other thing I do recommend is protect your characters’ voices and your own–that means you want to be careful about how much advice you take in from others. Some folks will tell you how they would write a scene–that’s not going to help you. Others will tell you about not liking a character–and that’s actually good if that character is meant to be tough to like. That doesn’t mean you want to change the character. And this means a writer needs to learn what advice is useful and what should be accepted with grace and then thrown out.
Voice matters–it’s what makes a reader want your stories above all others. It’s worth the time to develop and to guard.