- Writer Unboxed - https://writerunboxed.com -

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 [1]. 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 [2], 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 [3]. 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 [4], 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.

About Ray Rhamey [5]

Ray Rhamey [6] is the author of four novels and one writing craft book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. He's also an editor of book-length fiction and designs book covers and interiors for Indie authors and small presses. His website, crrreative.com [6], offers an a la carte menu of creative services for writers and publishers. Learn more about Ray's books at rayrhamey.com [7].