Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hearing Your Characters' Voices

There comes a time in every story (hopefully) when the words fly from your fingertips onto the page in a voice that you come to realize is not your own. And it shouldn't be -- unless you're writing an autobiography of course and then the voice not being yours is just weird.

The voice that you find in the story isn't yours because it's the voice of your character. This is especially true in first-person stories where you're sitting directly inside the head of the protagonist (or antagonist as the case may be) and seeing everything they see, but it's also valid in third-person limited and third-person omniscient tales.

When a writer says a story "wrote itself," then, what they mean is the character's voice came through loud and clear and fully formed without an ounce of hesitation. Moriah's sarcasm and deep-seated anger were the first traits I discovered without hesitation when I started writing CALLARION AT NIGHT; her feelings of inadequacy and burning desire to find the truth came later. And there are times when her voice comes through more clearly than others too -- like when her father dies or during The Argument with Nicolai that shifts them from dancing around the shared pain that keeps them apart.

What about you? When do you hear your character's voice the clearest?


Susan R. Mills said...

I love that moment when my character's voice takes over. I know it never happens if I'm too focused on following rules and guidelines. So I try to free-write (that's what I call it). I just write what ever comes to mind. It may be crap and I may have to delete it all, or it may take my story to a whole new level. Either way, it's the only way to establish that voice.

Davin Malasarn said...

It's so random for me. I feel like some stories come out this way, and on others I have to labor more. And, from readers' receptions, the ones that "write themselves" seem to be more liked. If I relied on that kind of inspiration, though, I'd probably produce about 2% of what I do now.

Joshua McCune said...

Most of mine definitely do not write themselves, unfortunately (probably in part b/c I'm too focused on the rhythm of the sentences and paragraphs to let the writing flow, which, of course, is a nice little contradiction.)

As far as the stories that do write themselves, I think there is a lot of the author's voice in his characters, though perhaps much of that is subconscious.

L. T. Host said...

V definitely wrote itself. I felt like an oracle, merely translating the words onto paper (ok, screen). It was weird, but rewarding. I now understand how people feel they have a muse inside them-- that's how it felt to me. Like I was just an automaton writing down the words of my characters. Interesting post!

Gary Corby said...

When beginning a new character I turn off the music. Otherwise that innkeeper in Periclean Athens ends up sounding like John Lennon.

I recommend writing throw-away dialogues with other characters until you have your new guy dialled in.

Only once have I decided I needed to change a character voice in revision. It was very difficult to do.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I'm not one of those writers who typically hears the voices. I wish I were. I feel like each character is a friend I have to get comfortable with- I think that's why beginnings are the hardest for me and where I do the most revision.

Also, there's a little present waiting in your email, Matt. In the way of a book. :)

Adam Heine said...

Usually I need someone else to tell me a voice is working, and sometimes what that voice is (still a writer-in-training, after all). My wife was the one who told me how funny Hagai was, after which... well, I kinda overdid it for one chapter, but after that I was able to focus on the humor and keep it running.