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kposa
09-26-2009, 08:11 AM
After following this this thread (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=131621&page=3#post4081382) about whether or not to blog, I have a few questions about voice (or voices).

What is the difference, if any, between the voices of a character (presumably the MC), the novel and the writer? How are they distinguished from one another? How are they developed? Which would you develop first when writing?

I have a vague understanding of each, but want to know what others think.

katiemac
09-26-2009, 09:14 AM
Every novel has a narrator, even if the reader doesn't know who the narrator is exactly. Just like you would narrate a story differently than a friend, each narrator has a different voice. Again, the reader might not know who the narrator is but the author should.

Individual characters also have separate voices. No one person talks the same way. You'll see in threads on dialogue how it's encouraged to make each of your characters' voices to stand out. For example, if there is no dialogue tag, can you still tell who is speaking based on what they say and how they say it?

And last, the writer's voice. That's you, the author. Read five novels written by the same author back to back, and you'll start to recognize the author's distinct voice. John Updike does not write the same way as Stephen King.

Sometimes these three things overlap. If you're writing in first person, for example, your narrator will also be a character, so that character's voice and the narrator's voice are the same. But your writer's voice is probably still an influence ... sentence structure, syntax, etc.

Wayne K
09-26-2009, 11:22 AM
:nothing

maestrowork
09-26-2009, 09:46 PM
What Katie said. The writer's voice affects the narrator's voice, and the narrator's voice affects the character's voice. Not that they're the same -- the character's voice would be the most distinctive. But still, since it comes from the writer, everything is related. The best writers could keep the writer's voice at bay. The narrator's voice may be the same as the character's voice (close 3rd or 1st person) or completely different -- but it also doesn't have to be the writer's voice.

kposa
09-27-2009, 05:27 AM
Thanks! This is very helpful for me to distinguish the three.

Lady Ice
09-27-2009, 04:13 PM
Basically the character's voice is how that particular character talks. Let's just say this is a gangster:
'Yiz'll all wish yiz never bin born'
I don't recommend writing it out phonetically but you see what I mean. The writer may be a demure English elderly woman. Her voice may appear in one character but not in this one.

The novel's voice is down to the narrator. The writer's voice is probably going to come into it but there is still something distinct about the novel's voice. That's down to how the story is told (structure and style) and the content (theme and plot).

The writer's voice is a mixture of idiosyncrisies, style, and their own beliefs and interests.

Wordwrestler
09-28-2009, 09:29 AM
I try to narrate in the POV character's voice. It's what makes the most sense for me as a writer, though I've read and enjoyed books where the narrator's voice was distinctly different. I make no effort to develop my own voice, but I can see it when I read different novels I've written, or even different chapters of the same novel, which are in different characters' points of view. I see it as the little bit of me that's in each of my POV characters.

Trying to consciously develop my own voice just sounds too overwhelming to me, like something that would just confuse me and get in the way of me telling stories. Voice is one of those things that's so hard to define, and that's why I choose to approach it this way.

kposa
09-28-2009, 09:36 AM
Trying to consciously develop my own voice just sounds too overwhelming to me, like something that would just confuse me and get in the way of me telling stories. Voice is one of those things that's so hard to define, and that's why I choose to approach it this way.

This totally makes sense to me. I feel, as a new writer, that I have more important things to focus on now, such as telling the story, than whether or not I have a well-developed voice. Can voice even be consciously developed or does it come naturally with time and practice?

maestrowork
09-28-2009, 09:41 AM
Your voice (as a writer) comes naturally and through practice, etc. My opinion is that you can't force it or try to "develop" it. Worrying about it also won't help you. Keep writing, and soon you will find that voice.

Ruv Draba
09-28-2009, 03:24 PM
What Katie said. A character's voice is that part of dialogue that tells us the character's age, social background, education and personality even if you never describe them. How they choose words, make sentences, express emotions and ideas are all part of their voice.

A narrator's voice is what characterises the persona that mediates between the reader and the mood. The narrator can be a character in the story (having desires and aims and opinions), or a character outside of the story (likewise), or just a persona -- having no opinions but habits and affectations of speech.

Character and narrative voices need to develop for each story, so despite what some authors tell you, you need to work on them. Some authors use the same voice for all their narrators; some don't. Good authors generally won't use the same voice for all their characters unless they always write the same sorts of characters.

An author's voice is a whole different thing, and I think it's over-rated. Many authors want a distinctive voice because it means that they're well-published, well-read, innovative and remembered. But when readers notice an author's voice I think they're generally just noticing similarities in narrator's or character's voices. Many authors dig themselves a niche and just stick to a limited range of voices for that niche, so some of those voices become signature for what they say and how they say it. The author is then identified with that signature. This is why I think it's (trivially) true that you can't develop an author's voice -- readers decide what it is after you've published a lot of books.

But regardless, authors who spend the effort can produce new narrative voices, or copy each other's. In the same way that we don't normally have the one speaking voice (compare how we talk to friends to how we speak to new in-laws or a judge), we don't really have one writing-voice. As with characters and narrators we have the voices we develop.

Exir
09-28-2009, 05:30 PM
An author's voice is a whole different thing, and I think it's over-rated. Many authors want a distinctive voice because it means that they're well-published, well-read, innovative and remembered. But when readers notice an author's voice I think they're generally just noticing similarities in narrator's or character's voices. Many authors dig themselves a niche and just stick to a limited range of voices for that niche, so some of those voices become signature for what they say and how they say it. The author is then identified with that signature. This is why I think it's (trivially) true that you can't develop an author's voice -- readers decide what it is after you've published a lot of books.

I agree. What sets an author apart from others and makes them unique is not necessarily a fresh and 'quirky' voice, but also the way they decide to weave a story, choosing the types of characters and situations that are present as well as sticking with certain themes. (I find these to be different from 'voice', which is more about how an author writes things rather than what he/she chooses to write about)

backslashbaby
09-28-2009, 05:56 PM
And I think it's important to add that your writer's voice might not sound like any voice you use in real life. I think a lot of people think it's the thoughts in their head, edited, but it might not be. My writer's voice must've come about by so much reading, and I never think that way except when I'm writing narrative.

underthecity
09-28-2009, 07:48 PM
I feel, as a new writer, that I have more important things to focus on now, such as telling the story, than whether or not I have a well-developed voice.

I used to think the same thing. I've worked on my novel for three years now, and recently posted the first two chapters in SYW (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=156241), this after a major rewrite of those chapters.

How proud I was of those chapters, having pretty much tackled all of the problems raised from crits of previous attempts.

Then one poster raised a valid point: "It's flat. There's no "voice" to make the words stand out from the page."

I had no idea.

Was this a result of over-editing? Was my entire manuscript devoid of "voice?" I posted a later chapter in SYW to find out (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=156628). So far, no one's said so.

Can voice even be consciously developed or does it come naturally with time and practice?

It comes from time and practice, but I don't know if it happens in your first writing effort or not. I previously thought there was voice present in my novel. I thought through my many rewrites that the voice was gradually going in. Perhaps it was on its way out.

I think the best question to ask then, is what exactly is voice?

And I don't mean character voice, but third-person-limited authorial voice. The voice of the narrator.

Lady Ice
09-28-2009, 09:55 PM
Trying to consciously develop my own voice just sounds too overwhelming to me, like something that would just confuse me and get in the way of me telling stories. Voice is one of those things that's so hard to define, and that's why I choose to approach it this way.

You can't consciously develop your writer's voice, otherwise it'll sound false. You will find it as you continue to write. Whether the voice is really quirky and distinctive or not, it still has to be there. It's why people will go to see a play 'because it's Shakespeare'.

Think of actors. You'd see films with your favourite favourite actors in even if you weren't really eager to see the film.

Juliette Wade
09-28-2009, 11:39 PM
I think it's counterproductive to worry about your authorial voice too much - but very, very important to develop voices for characters and narrators. I read a post about voice by S. Boyd Taylor just the other day (here (http://sboydtaylor.livejournal.com/399619.html)) that argues for developing voice. He actually suggests trying to quantify what you like about other authors' voices and then seeing if you can add that to your work. It's not quite what I do... I use very concrete tools that come out of my linguistics training to develop character voices, and worry a lot less about my own authorial voice. In fact, I just this morning posted about voice on my blog, so if you're curious and want to see examples and a discussion of the tools for creating voice, you can check it out, here (http://talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com/2009/09/many-voices.html).

Lady Ice has a good point about sounding false - a voice has to be something you can "feel," so it doesn't seem slapped on. On the other hand, what I generally do is set up certain parameters for a character voice (such as an alien), try out a scene and see how it sounds, then play around with it a bit until I can start to learn the feel of it, just the way that you'd learn to think in another language.

Ruv Draba
09-28-2009, 11:40 PM
I think the best question to ask then, is what exactly is voice?

And I don't mean character voice, but third-person-limited authorial voice. The voice of the narrator.In an earlier post I described a third-person narrator as a persona mediating between the reader and the story's mood. The persona is a role, not a character -- it has no goals of its own -- but it has a way of looking at things and describing them that helps bring the mood to the reader. What we call 'voice' is really just what the persona notices, feels and how it communicates.

The persona we use to tell the story depends on what story we want to tell. Suppose that as part of a scene, a boy throws a ball to a dog but the dog refuses to chase it. That could be part of a joke or part of a horror story, say. We'll choose a different narrative persona for each:

Billy grabbed the dog-chewed, slobber-covered tennis ball and squinting, hauled back and let fly toward the woods. 'Get it Spot!' he yelled. 'Get it!'

Spot stared at him blankly.

'The ball, Spot' said Billy. 'Get the ball.'

Spot dropped its gaze to Billy's feet. This wasn't going to happen.

'Crap', said Billy. 'C'mon. We'll go find it.'



When Billy picked up the tennis-ball it was covered in slime and dozens of needle-teethed punctures. Billy thought of it as a toy. But for carnivores whose teeth that had for millennia broken necks and rent throats it was practice. The kind that made a dog drool with ancient dreams of blood and flesh.

No power on earth could have stopped a boy Billy's age from throwing that ball for Spot to chase. But it was Billy's own sense of magnificent invulnerability that made him fling the ball toward the woods, despite his parents' warnings.

'Get it, Spot!', he yelled. 'Get it!'

Spot gave Billy a bland look. There comes a time when a dog has so savaged and gutted a ball that there's nothing left to learn. It eyed Billy's feet.

'The ball, Spot' said Billy. 'Get the ball.'

It's the folly of little boys to imagine that dogs were put on earth to entertain them.

'Crap', said Billy. 'C'mon. We'll go find it.'

Same events, same dialogue, same point of view but two different moods. So what's different? It's in what the narrator notices, how it thinks and feels about the events, and the kinds of words it uses. The narrator's voice connects the reader to the mood.

But mood can change over a story. One scene might be frantic, the next languid; one scene happy, the next sad. Readers trust a good narrator to lead them faithfully and safely through the mood changes so that they're entertained rather than confused or shocked. That sense of fidelity and safety is created by consistency in the narrator's voice. A narrative voice may change tone (from light to dark, say), but should never change persona. By noticing the same things, using the same sorts of words and sentences to describe them, it creates consistency in the reader's experience and enhances the reader's appreciation of the story.

And that's what choice of narrative voice is about, I think: picking ways of noticing and describing things that enhance the mood while keeping the reader safe and enjoying themselves.

Hope that helps.

kposa
03-03-2010, 07:36 AM
Juliette,
Thank you for sharing that awesome blog post! I'm particularly struck by the "major metaphors" that you use for your characters. I've never done that for any of mine. I can see how that tool lends itself to developing a character's voice. One of my next exercises for my WIP will be to assign such metaphors to my major characters, and see where that gets me. Thanks again! What an eye-opener this is!

kposa
03-03-2010, 07:44 AM
It's in what the narrator notices, how it thinks and feels about the events, and the kinds of words it uses. The narrator's voice connects the reader to the mood.
....
And that's what choice of narrative voice is about, I think: picking ways of noticing and describing things that enhance the mood while keeping the reader safe and enjoying themselves.

Hope that helps.

Ruv, this totally helps, thanks! I'm starting to understand more about what voice really is, and what you said confirms that I'm on the right track.

I can see how voice comes naturally in some ways, according to the writer's experience, background, etc. But I'm also starting to understand how it can be developed, precisely by this choice of words that you talk about.

Lynn Price wrote a piece about "seeing like a writer and gaining voice (http://behlerblog.wordpress.com/2010/02/28/seeing-like-a-writer-and-gaining-voice/)" recently. It was another piece in the puzzle for me (I wrote about the aha moment in my blog (http://karenninaposa.com/2010/03/learning-about-voice-in-fiction/), should anyone care to read it).

Jamesaritchie
03-03-2010, 07:46 PM
First, I think you have to difefrentiate between a writer's voice and a writer's style. They are not the ame thing, even though too many use the words interchangably.

But I think you had better consciously develop your writer's voice, and you style, or it's going to take forever to find one that works, and you'll then be stuck with that one voice.

Good writers don't have a single voice, or a single style. They have a difefrent voice and a different style for each type of story they tell. Unless you want to tell the same story over and over, you need to learn to match voice and style to the particular story you're telling at the time.

Every character, including the narrator, is an individual, and has individual experience, speech patterns, education, personalities, likes, dislikes, quirks, backgrounds, etc. This should be as true in third person limited as it is in first person, but writing first person is good practice because the narrator must have a distinctive personality.

And just as every characte ris different, every story, too, should be different. Mood and tone, two areas often ignored by many writers, calls for a specific voice and a specific style, depending on what you want the mood and tone to be.

Reading different types of stories, and studying them, trying to understand why each sounds so different, each feels so different, is, I believe, the best way to learn voice and style.

It's then a matter of putting yourself in the shoes of the narrator first, and each individual character in turn, and of writing trhough that narrator or character. This is the point. Fiction isn't about the writer, it's about the characters and the story. The writer's voice will usually come through in what the writer has to say, though it's always a personal decision on whether to allow teh writer's voice to show through, or whether to say something teh writer would usually never say, or tell a type of story teh writer would usually never tell, in what kind of story he tells, but the writer's style changes drastically according to how the story is told, and who the characters are in the story.

You have to set mood, tone, and narrator's voice right up front, in the first paragraph, and you have to do this consciously. Unless, as I said, you want to tell the same story, and use the same narrator, over and over.

Lady Ice
03-03-2010, 10:48 PM
Yep, don't use the same character voice in every novel. It limits you and your characters.

But of course there are similarities between the styles of the novels, and people like that. They like to have an author that they can 'trust', so it feels like you actually have a connection with them.
So don't overshadow the story but don't give nothing of yourself to it. If the reader doesn't believe that this story has any importance to you, why would they bother to read it?

Dorian W. Gray
03-04-2010, 04:17 AM
Again, the reader might not know who the narrator is but the author should.

Katie or anyone else, I am not sure if I understand the above statement.

So just to clarify, do you mean that reader may not know who the narrator is in terms of their name or gender or what is the nature of relationship between narrator/s and characters?

Surely, a novel can have more than one narrator, but shouldn't narrators be obvious to the reader, when POV is shifted? Or am I missing something here? Thanks

Clarification on Omniscient (godlike) narrator 'OGN':

in a novel told through an omniscient (godlike) narrator, reader may never know who is this person/narrator is, unless specifically identified by the author, but the OGN isn't allowed to change his perspectives, or shift loyalties during the course of the story, speaking of which, should OGN even have loyalties or preferences towards any characters, is he allowed to even have any loyalties? If yes, does that make a story/narrator weaker?

Shouldn't every narrator be consistent in his/her voice through out the book?

Thank you for your input and clarification

Dorian Gray.

bonitakale
03-04-2010, 09:27 PM
Katie or anyone else, I am not sure if I understand the above statement.

So just to clarify, do you mean that reader may not know who the narrator is in terms of their name or gender or what is the nature of relationship between narrator/s and characters?

Surely, a novel can have more than one narrator, but shouldn't narrators be obvious to the reader, when POV is shifted? Or am I missing something here? Thanks.


Just jumping in here, if the narrator is Dr. Watson, or the main character, yes, the reader knows who it is. But many or most books have an invisible narrator who leads the reader along without the reader's being aware of it.

For example: The room felt cold. Lila was shivering before she'd reached the other side of it. The sofa and chairs were white; the floor was white; all the walls were white except for the glass one, that looked out onto the snow-covered mountains and the gray sky.

Okay, this is pretty much Lila's point of view; she's the one who feels cold. But who is telling us about the white furnishings, etc? That's the narrator. She may be telling us what Lila noticed -- or not.

But Lila didn't see any of that. She saw only the blood.

Now, that's definitely the narrator talking. A different narrator might not have mentioned the whiteness of the room at all, might have said something like:

Through the glass walls, Lila could see the hill full of skiers enjoying the packed powder, like an early Christmas present from the sky gods. Inside was death.

(Sorry, I read a lot of mysteries.)

Juliette Wade
03-05-2010, 03:40 AM
kposa, I'm so glad you found my post helpful. I agree with Jamesaritchie that it's important to use diverse voices as your stories change. As far as the question of knowing who the narrator is, you can definitely play around with that. Sometimes the narrator is almost totally congruent with the pov character; sometimes it's very external. In the external case, you can have a narrator who is a person - either external to the story world, like C.S. Lewis, who makes reference to WWII in his narration, or internal to the world, like a person narrating his story retrospectively. Some omniscient narrators, though, are very hard to identify. I always get a grandfatherly feel from Tolkien's narration. There are also second-person narrators, which appear to be congruent with the reader, but often turn out not to be (as in El-Mohtar's "And Their Lips Rang with the Sun").

The trick is that, to keep the narrator consistent, it helps for an author to have a concept of who the narrator is and what they're trying to achieve with the narrator's voice. Another article I wrote that you might find helpful/relevant is my piece on the nuts and bolts of creating point of view, which appeared in IROSF August 2006, here (http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10311).