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Hearing Voices

Last month, I blogged about getting to know your characters—which segways nicely into the WU theme for this month: voice. I’ve always felt that voice is the reflection of your POV characters’ personalities, the way they want their story to be told. And I’ve found that I can’t nail down the voice for my novels unless and until I know my POV characters really, really well, and they’re talking to me in voices I can hear—sometimes as clearly as I hear the voices of my husband and kids.

That can take time, for sure. Somc character’s voices come quite easily, others much less so. Louis Menand had an article on voice in the New Yorker awhile back and wrote:

A better basis than speaking for the metaphor of voice in writing is singing. You can’t tell if someone can sing or not from the way she talks, and although “natural phrasing” and “from the heart” are prized attributes of song, singing that way requires rehearsal, preparation, and getting in touch with whatever it is inside singers that, by a neural kink or the grace of God, enables them to turn themselves into vessels of musical sound.

So don’t be discouraged if you’re not hearing your characters’ voices right away, or if it takes revision after revision until their voices are ringing off the page as clearly as they possibly can. View hard-nut-to-crack characters as an opportunity to experiment with alternative storytelling techniques. You might try writing a day-in-the-life diary for your main character. The diary entry doesn’t necessarily have to make it into your book—but it can be a great tool towards feeling your way towards your main character’s personality, and thus his or her voice. I had a character who wouldn’t talk to me (or the reader), but she was willing to talk to her best (platonic) male friend. Only when she started dictating letters to the friend in the middle of scenes, telling him how she really felt about what was going on did I finally get a fix on who she truly was and how her voice needed to sound.

I’ve found it fascinating to read all the posts on voice this month. There have been so many great insights, so many fabulously helpful thoughts on storycraft. And yet I felt like we all struggled a bit to clearly pin down just what voice is and how writers go about developing their own. I think that’s because however much you try to dissect and analyze it, in essence voice is magic. You know Pinoccio? Voice is the touch of the Blue Fairy’s magic wand that turns characters from wooden puppets into real live people who jump off the page.

About Anna Elliott [1]

Anna Elliott is an author of historical fiction and fantasy. Her first series, the Twilight of Avalon trilogy, is a retelling of the Trystan and Isolde legend. She wrote her second series, the Pride and Prejudice Chronicles, chiefly to satisfy her own curiosity about what might have happened to Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and all the other wonderful cast of characters after the official end of Jane Austen's classic work. She enjoys stories about strong women, and loves exploring the multitude of ways women can find their unique strengths. Anna lives in the Washington DC area with her husband and three children.