For me, “voice” is character

I am schizophrenic. That has to be the answer. Why do I say that? I recently came to understand that I write differently depending on the point-of-view character—and, scarily, I can’t write in that voice unless I channel the character.

Here’s the inciting incident for this realization: I wanted to do an “About the author” page in my upcoming novel, The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles, and on the website. You need to understand that the narrative is told by my character, Patch, who is the world’s first vampire cat, and the website is presented as if authored by him.

I started writing the author page and immediately thought it was dull, blah-blah-blah. So I thought, what the heck, this is Patch’s book, so he should write it. Luckily, he was willing to do it.

Going around the bend, right?

But it worked. The first sign that it was working was a change in the title. Instead of “About the author,” Patch titled the page “About the typist.”

My typist, Ray Rhamey, asked me to tell you a little about him. Since he’s been an excellent associate, what with the catnip and typing up my story and all, I’m happy to oblige.

In describing me, Patch says,

Ray’s quite catlike, actually—independent as hell and really likes to have his back scratched.

I can guarantee you that line would have never occurred to the real me as the writer of an author’s page. But it’s not bad characterization, is it?

Part of an author’s page can be about what he or she does. Here’s how Patch put some of what he knows about me:

I get tired just watching this guy. Here’s where Ray is less like a cat than, say, a cat—he doesn’t sleep most of the day. No, he keeps trying stuff. He’s also a cartoonist, and just about sold a comic strip about an actor pig. He’s planning to do a graphic novel about that character one of these days. I’ll be looking over his shoulder and advising him on the animal point of view.

Another thing an author’s page often does is to flog the author’s work, books, etc. I’ve done this on Writer Unboxed, my FtQ Press website, etc. But it came out differently when Patch took on the task.

Digging into the craft of writing novels to tell his own stories led him to doing freelance editing of book-length fiction, and that led him to create his blog on writing compelling fiction, Flogging the Quill. I’ll be honest, some of the things I learned from him helped me do this book . . . okay, that’s a plug, but, hey, I’m biased. Full disclosure.

Anyway, his blog led to him doing writing workshops at writers’ conferences and publishing his book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. Even though he lives in the Pacific Northwest, he’s got fans all over the world, and I can see how much he enjoys being a member of the writing community and helping other writers. But I don’t hold it against him as long as I get my full share of his time.

I’d been dimly aware of this ability (er, mental illness?) in writing my other novels because the tone and wording of narrative exposition would change to match the point-of-view character, but Patch is the one that made me realize how key being in character is to the voice of my narrative. Voice is, after all, a composite of what is said, how it is said—word choice (the verbs, the adjectives, even the nouns), and structure/rhythm of how it is said (short sentences or long, simple sentences or complex, or a blend). And each character, if a true and distinct individual, will naturally express things in unique ways.

It doesn’t always pay off—the main protagonist in one of my novels grew up in the 18th century even though she is alive and well in the modern times of the story. The narrative voice for her, as well as her dialogue and internal monologue, reflected the education and patterns of that time—elegant, fulsome, intricate structure, big words, formal. Unfortunately, readers were put off by the “cold” nature of that voice. Eventually I “modernized” it to some extent, including contractions, etc. to warm it up. I think it worked, although the novel hasn’t found representation yet.

As I said in a section on voice in my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells, the voice in the book is me, I’m the point-of-view character. I espouse making the narrative voice match that of the point-of-view character because I think it’s a way to immerse the reader more deeply into the experience of a character, but Patch is the one who showed me that it’s instinctive with me, not a learned technique based on some theory of writing craft.

So. . .am I all alone here, or are any of you out there in the same loony bin?

For what it’s worth.

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About Ray Rhamey

Ray Rhamey is the author of five novels and one craft book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. He's also an editor who has recently expanded his creative services to include book cover and interior design. His website, crrreative.com, offers an a la carte menu of creative services for self-publishers and Indie authors. Learn more about Ray's fiction at rayrhamey.com.

Comments

  1. says

    Move over in your loony bin, Ray. When I’m writing a character, deeply entrenched in that person’s POV, things come out of my mouth (fly out of my fingers?) that would never come out of my own. Maybe we’re tapping into the actors’ mindset — that ability to escape your own thoughts for a while to literally become someone else. Pun intended.

    Thanks for a great post. I can’t wait to meet Patch, hopefully in early February.

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  2. says

    Be grateful if the character stays on the page.

    Last fall, I wrote a short story narrated by Baba Yaga. I was in a restaurant having dinner with a friend one night. We ordered and as the waitress left our table my friend said: “Do you realize you just ordered in broken English with a Russian accent?”

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  3. says

    LOL to this post and Therese’s comment.

    Sometimes I think I’m too reserved to let my inner schizophrenic loose, which is why I’m still very ambivalent (for my own writing, not others’) about 1st person narration. But I’ve been working on it, with fun results. :)

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  4. says

    I love the author bio that Patch did. It’s brilliant. And I totally wish for this “illness.” Sometimes, I feel more affinity through certain character’s voice. But not always. I am not yet confident of having found my voice, so I still keep trying to channel it through my characters. I am just hoping that eventually, I will figure it out.
    .-= Dolly´s last blog ..Dinner Party with Jane Austen’s Heroines =-.

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  5. says

    I thought this was fabulous! I think Patch is an excellent narrator and did a great job with the author bio!

    I don’t feel like me for the sake of me is boring exactly, but the real me is very unlike my narrative voice, and I wonder if this channeling might improve my chances with those pesky queries…

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  6. Trip Volpe says

    Brenda, that’s absolutely wonderful! Did you order the borscht? :-)

    Patch seems like a natural storyteller. He’s fortunate to have such a dedicated typist!

    Anyway, this is absolutely true for me. I’ve only recently started writing fiction as a hobby (might become more serious — I’m loving it so far!) and I’ve already found my characters living in my head. Even in day-to-day life I sometimes find myself thinking from their point of view; a lot of interesting insights into their ideas and personalities have occurred this way. They haven’t started talking or making my restaurant orders for me, though. At least, not yet!

    And I definitely get my most productive writing done when I really immerse myself in a character and let their thoughts stream out onto the page uninterrupted. I’ve found that when I’m struggling to get words on the page, it’s almost always because I’m not “in character.” Whatever the POV is, I think there always has to be _somebody_ behind the words, even if that somebody is the author.

    So I’d say the more people (and cats!) in your head, the merrier. If there’s even room in there for your own personality, so much the better! We’re definitely going to need lots of room in the crazy house.

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  7. Sophie Masson says

    Having read the book with great enjoyment, I can definitely state that Patch is a most convincing character and his typist must have worked like a demon to get all that rapidfire wisecracking down!

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  8. says

    Very creative. This multiple personality disorder does become a little tenuous at times. The story I’m working now through my blog is written in first person with myself as the central character, but my actual voice comes through the two supporting characters. It’s so fun writing myself as stupid as I’d like to be.

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