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Author voice versus character voice
Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2011 8:39 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 227

Voice is something I struggle to understand because it has so much overlap with style. When I write, I usually hear my characters talking, but inevietably (sp?), my own voice trickles in. My female MCs often use phrases I use in my everyday life. Sometimes my male MCs do, too. Unfortunately, that sometimes makes my characters sound the same, and I worry that my stories are just different plots with the same characters.

How do you separate your author voice from the character voices?

P.S. Sorry for any spelling errors...we dont' have a spell check button on here, do we?

Posted: Friday, April 1, 2011 1:18 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 51

The key, for me, is to get completely inside my character's heads. When I'm fully engrossed in who they are, I can pretty easily shift into their voice.

I know what you mean about using certain words, though. Why not make a list of the words and phrases you commonly use in your own speech that tend to slip into your characters' thoughts and speech, and then you can do a search for them at the end of the draft? Come up with alternatives that fit each character better, and then replace them as necessary. Sometimes it's easier to fix things after the fact than to constantly worry about them as you're writing.
Posted: Friday, April 1, 2011 9:12 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 227

Great idea, Cameron! I've certainly found some curses that slip in regularly.
Posted: Saturday, April 2, 2011 9:56 PM
Joined: 3/30/2011
Posts: 10

I'm really interested to hear more about this, especially after visiting the other thread regarding the voice of an individual piece.

My understanding is that, currenlty, the authorial voice is nearly, well, invisible. First person and tight 3rd limited are supposed to convey the personality of the point of view character to the point the writer is more like a stage hand and the character is the only one in view. I've seen this before: The writer should be invisible.

Yet, I hear authors discuss authorial voice and style and I see agents comment on it and post about wanting "a fresh voice." Does voice then become less the sentence structure and flow and more the heart of the piece? The types of situations and characters the author tends to be drawn to or the themes that come up again and again? Is it both? Something else entirely?

Three examples of writers that can be easily recognized no matter which story: Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Crusie, and Carol Goodman. Sometimes what strikes me most is the way they construct the stories and transition between scenes (Picoult) sometimes it's recurring objects (Crusie's small Ohio towns, Dusty Springfield, etc.) and sometimes it's imagery/symbols (Carol Goodman's water, use of history, etc.)

And some people believe every author has a core theme or two that comes up again and again in their work. Is that also voice when voice is "invisible"?

In my own writing, I have been told I have a "strong voice" to the point of it being sometimes seen as a detriment. I fought against that for years but with little success so I'm just going with it now.

What do you think about voice? What concerns you or inspires you about it? Is it something easy to define, or nebulous?
Posted: Saturday, April 2, 2011 11:21 PM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 18

IMHO...an author hones his / her voice over time and countless stories.

And yes, the authors voice should be invisible from the voice of the person telling the story, but that is not to say the reader does not feel the authors voice in the background.

They see it in how the author uses certain word, or phrases, how they structure dialogue, punctuation, or lack of as is the case with Corey Doctorow. (

Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2011 2:26 AM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 51

I think authorial voice comes down to the way an author tells a story. You could give two authors identical outlines of events that have to occur within a novel, and they would each tell the story in a different way, emphasizing different things, using different techniques and methods and styles, and there would probably be a lot of variation in how they structure their sentences and use different words and phrases. That's what makes up each author's "voice".

To an extent, it's easier to figure out an author's voice when comparing them to another author, rather than on their own. That makes the particular way in which they craft a story stand out more.
Posted: Friday, April 8, 2011 1:33 AM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 227

You guys have me thinking.

Indirectly - when you mentioned themes that come up, I realized that in my Regency single-titles, I have a recurring theme. It wasn't planned--at all--but it's coming out. I don't think it's slipped into my novella, but give it time.
Susan Roebuck
Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 7:33 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 3

Cameron, you've made some fabulous points which have got me thinking. My first novel had very clear voices but my next one is tending towards the same characters! Damn! I must, as you say, get really engrossed in the character and hear him or her speak for herself.
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 6:33 AM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 46

I tend to think of the author as having style while the characters have voice. That's not a rule, just how I separate them. They can influence each other, and will blur until almost indistinguishable in 1st person, but are two different things.

In terms of separating characters' voices, I think that allowing characters to sound the same doesn't do them justice. Even if they come from a specific socioeconomic and geographical "place", dialogue has to reveal more about each character's motives than real life conversation does.

Posted: Saturday, April 30, 2011 5:05 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 30

I think one thing that helped at the start for me was to cast actors as my characters. This made their voices DISTINCTLY clear from my own in my head. Within a story, I'm fairly solid on keeping my characters separate from me and in their own voices.

What I am finding difficult right now... working on a novella from the POV of a side character from my novel. I hear 2 distinct women. They are quite different characters. However, my betas were critical of my novella protag's over-sexualization and crass language (she's a course girl). They wanted me to tone it down. In doing so, I worry that I've cloned the original narrator from the novel.
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2011 3:08 AM
• When I write, I usually hear my characters talking, but inevietably (sp?), my own voice trickles in.

From what I can se, for many writers, the reason that happens is that they’re reporting what they visualize the character doing, described from an indeterminate but external vantage point. The result is that they’re writing from the outside in. They might say that such and such a person marches up to another, and it follows that they’ll tell the reader what they hear the character’s saying. So the scene comes to us through the eyes, and personal biases of the writer. And as a result the character will respond to what the author thinks they should respond to–so of course they often behave as the author would.

But suppose, instead, we climb into the character’s head and permit ourself to notice only what the character has reason to actively pay attention to. The result is that we can’t report what’s going on around the character unless it’s something important enough to capture their attention, which means they’ll evaluate it and respond, even if the response is a decision not to do anything.

And because we’re using the character’s perceptions and mind, their personality, needs, and desires will dictate what they think, do, and say, which means that we can’t interject our own way of speaking (unless the character is like us in that respect)

It means writing from the inside out—character-centric rather than author-centric. The good fallout from that is that it places us in the prompter’s booth rather than on stage with the actors.

Jay Greenstein

Foreign Embassy
Adrian Saturday
Posted: Saturday, June 25, 2011 10:59 PM
Joined: 5/9/2011
Posts: 3

This is something I have a problem with, too. I struggle to give my characters individual voices, because overall I find myself focusing more on the style of the story itself, rather than actually fleshing out the characters. My "author voice" seeps through into every character, because ultimately they are merely pieces to move the story forward and let me try out a new narrative trick. I'm really trying to get away from this and let my characters develop organically, rather than have them saying what my particular narrative style at the moment requires of them at the time. I like the suggestion earlier of going through and finding words and phrases that slip in from the author's personal voice, and replacing them. Characters should each have their own distinct voice, separate from the overall tone of the piece itself. That's the main difference, I find: yes, you can definitely tell an author's style/voice, but if they're good, the characters will have separate, individual, distinguishing voices of their own.
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Monday, July 9, 2012 3:16 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

I agree with writing "from character" rather than trying to give the story a style...because the other way can mean you've got the wrong characters for that story.  

But "author voice" isn't exactly what's seeping into your characters--what you've got there is lack of character depth and density.   An authorial voice isn't bad--in fact, it's essential if you want to build a readership.   Readers bond with an author because of the voice--if writers really could suppress their authorial voice, there'd be no reason to have favorite writers.

Your unique authorial voice is an asset, not a liability...as long as you're letting characters be who they really are, and not treating them as paper dolls.  Your "voice" then comes out in your choice of characters, your choice of setting, your choice of situations you ask your characters to deal with. 

How distinct characters' voices should be varies with their importance.   The more important, the more their voice needs to be identifiable--and here you can help yourself by giving these important characters one or two traits that are very different from your own.  Not appearance--an attitude and a behavior that will show up in the story.  This way you'll be reminded regularly to check whether the character is in his/her own voice or in yours. 

Words and phrases you use may be OK if the story has a contemporary setting and is regionally appropriate...trying too hard to avoid what is common speech in the story's setting can flatten it.  On the other hand, if you're writing in another place or period,  you'll want to replace current slang and constructions with something appropriate to the story. 

--edited by Elizabeth Moon on 6/4/2014, 12:48 AM--


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