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How do you find a piece's voice?
Michael R Underwood
Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 6:10 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 74

I'm interested in other writer's process/method for finding and developing the voice for a story.  I've known writers who talk to themselves until they have the voice write, writers who immerse themselves in literature or narrative in that voice (mostly accents/regional dialects).

For my own work, I make sure I'm writing a voice I can hear clearly in my head, and then try to frame what I'd write normally through that lens.  My current work-in-progress is a great challenge in voice, because one of the main character's schticks is that she can mimic genres, which I'm hoping to display by shifting the narrative's voice to go with it.

So, how do you do it?  Is shifting voices easy, hard, terrifying or fun (or all of the above)?

Posted: Saturday, March 12, 2011 10:45 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 157

I work in a close 3rd though often more than one POV character in a book. Just not more than one at a time. But I prefer to keep the narrative voice as close to the character's voice as possible.

So, if the scene is in Patrick's POV and his dialogue and thoughts are prone to a certain casual treatment of grammatical rules, then the narrative voice for that scene will be more casual. If I'm working with Rafael who is more careful in his speech and approach to problems, the narrative will reflect that. So, there often isn't a single narrative voice for the story.

There is still an overall tone to a story, which can be created by choosing the right characters to present certain scenes. And of course by the action within the scenes.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, March 14, 2011 8:32 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

Quite honestly, I start writing, and if the voice doesn't work, I start over. One of my novels I originally wrote in first person, and it just didn't work, so I started over. But there were little bits and pieces that I wanted in that first person. So each chapter starts with an "excerpt" from his memoirs, and I also stick pieces of it here and there in the chapters.
Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 4:30 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 103

Thus far, I've only written stories with one voice. The prospect of conveying more than that is terrifying for me. So my process is for identifying one voice.

I write the first three chapters of my WIP in both first and third person. Between the two versions I can usually zero in on my MC's voice and determine which way he or she can best tell their story.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Saturday, March 19, 2011 4:22 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

My first few novels I didn't think about voice, but I was generally writing from a single POV. Since then I've written at least one thing with wildly varying POVs, and actually have used the voice change to help wth characterization.

So... I guess either I don't think about it, or I do it entirely artificially.
Posted: Monday, March 21, 2011 3:02 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 51

My own experience has been that as long as I know my characters inside and out, voice just comes naturally. It's never been a conscious decision for me, and honestly not something I pay much attention to, but it's definitely there in the finished product.

When your characters become real, when they're the equivalent of live people that you actually know, they automatically have their own voices. If someone is struggling with voice, it's most likely that either they don't know their characters well enough, or they're not really listening to them.
Posted: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 1:00 AM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 18

Voice is directly related to Point of View...

If, 1st person, the voice is that of the narrator, which is not the writer injecting his or her own thoughts.

If, 3rd person close or limited, this is very similar to 1st person and allows the writer to change characters, thus changing the voice to whoever is telling the story at any given point of time.

If 3rd person omniscient, this is the unknown narrator, and his voice is the only voice, even when the omniscient narrator moves in close to a particular character, it is still the narrators voice the reader hears.

Posted: Friday, April 1, 2011 12:33 AM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 27

I don't necessarily agree that voice is directly related to POV. There are any number of novels wherein the POV is a third person limited, but from the perspective of different characters. Each perspective character, then, must have his or her own unique voice.
In this case also, if I'm understanding Michael's original question correctly, the voice under discussion is the character voice, not the authorial voice. My own authorial voice is present and recognizable in all my work (I hope!). But each character narrator has their own manner of telling the story. A lot of my work is in first person, so my challenge is to make sure character in book A does not "sound" the same as character in book B. So what works best for me is to write the opening few chapters longhand, because I hand write slower that I type. This forces me to take my time and helps me really focus on the character. I find by the end of three chapters I've usually got a good handle on the character - or I've realized I don't have the right character in the "role" and I'll start again.
Posted: Saturday, April 2, 2011 2:04 AM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 18


Agree or disagree, voice IS directly related to PoV and we are not talking about authorial voice which is an entirely different voice.

I don't care what PoV you are in, the voice is that of who ever is telling the story at any given moment.

In 1st person, there is only one voice, the MC who is telling the story.

In 3rd person close/limited, the author is not stuck to a single view and thus if they change views, the voice should change to that of the person in whose view the story is unfolding.

In 3rd person omniscient, the voice is that of the all knowing narrator, even when the narrator injects the thoughts of others, it is still the omniscient narrator and not a known character.

Authorial voice is the style in which the author writes, how he/'she uses words, catch phrases, formatting styles, punctuation styles, and a lot of other things that define a particular author. This is not to say, an author can not use different styles and have different voices.

Hope this makes more sense...
Jennifer B Fields
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 1:37 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 6

I agree with Alexander's response. I believe that these stories we write are waiting to be told with the muse as a catalyst. Although POV, dialog and action are all ways to convey your character's voice, I believe that the character has a DESTINED voice. Like our own children, they are "born" in our imaginations. In my experience, if a story fights you in it's design and creation, then the writer is not telling the story the way it is intended to be told. When a story I'm writing begins to throw a temper tantrum, I know I'm not listening to the muse.
Carl Rayer
Posted: Friday, November 11, 2011 6:40 PM
Joined: 5/20/2011
Posts: 6

A really good story that illustrates voice is Heart of Darkness. In it, we have Conrad writing a story from the point of view of a nameless narrator, who is listening to a story told to him by an aged Marlow, who is reminiscing about his youth, and the fun times he had sailing on a river in Africa.

My starting point in this is Conrad, and try as he may, it is still Conrad who is speaking at each level in the story. I suspect that try as we may, we have only the one voice, no matter how we try to disguise it.
Posted: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 5:29 PM
I'd like to see this thread come back to life. Thothguard made some great points!

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