Writerly Wednesday: finding your voice
One of the things I worried most about when starting a new series was the main character’s (MC’s) voice. I didn’t want Sandy to sound like Eleanor. In some ways, I won’t be able to completely eliminate it, they’re all tiny pieces of me, after all, but I am working very hard to ensure that Sandy and Eleanor (and the MC’s of future Oracle Bay books) are all very distinct.
One of the ways I do that is to write character bios. I include more than physical descriptions, I add things like “childhood,” and “relationship with parents.” Eleanor’s adopted parents are dead, but they died when she was twenty-two, so that impacted her as an adult. Sandy doesn’t know her bio dad, but has a great relationship with her mother and step-father, even if she seldom sees them now that they’re retired and off traveling the world.
A tip I got during a romance writing panel last weekend (holla Mel!) that I am absolutely adopting is doing silly personality quizzes for the characters that make you answer questions you’d never think of.
Another thing I do is plan out their favorite curses (profanity, not hexes…although I think there might be an Oracle Bay character or two who’d prefer a good hex to swearing). Eleanor’s is “motherfucker,” which is not a surprise to anyone who’s read more than a couple pages. Sandy’s is “Damnit” with a guilty look around to make sure no one heard.
Finding your voice – what makes you unique – is one of the easiest and hardest things about being a writer. You don’t want to sound like everyone else – and I think (I hope!) I’ve achieved that with Eleanor Morgan. Switching voices enough to have unique characters while still sounding like me is another challenge.
The reason it’s easy is because it’s you. You already are unique. The reason it’s hard is because diversity of voice and consistency within each individual character. This is one of the things I look for most when editing (and one of the things I really hope my editor watches out for). When the Beer Guy reads my books, he points out when I have other characters – like Florence – say something in a way that sounds more like Eleanor McSarcasticPants.
Everything you do in your writing, down to the punctuation and dialog tags you use, informs your voice. Eleanor’s voice is the most like my own, which makes sense as she’s my first. But, she has habits and attitudes that are decidedly not me (for instance, her Taco Bell obsession…give me a good food cart taco any day).
The more you write, the more your voice will become distinctive. I recently edited a book (I am eagerly awaiting the return of said book for another go) that had something wrong that I couldn’t put a finger on. It was a great story, and was well-written, but there was just something missing. It took someone who knew the author better than I did to identify that the voice was inauthentic based on what they knew of the author’s own voice. As soon as that was identified, it was like being smacked in the face with the knowledge.
You want your writing to be authentically you. That doesn’t mean every character sounds like you, but it does mean that you should pour yourself into your book and not edit yourself out of it at the end. *side eyes*
Your style, your habits, your vocabulary – all of those things should find their way in. From there, you craft your characters within the framework of you. The only way to get there, and get there consistently, is practice. (Accepting constructive criticism doesn’t hurt, either.)
How do you use your authentic voice when there are so many voices that need to be distinct, memorable, and genuine?