Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Finding a Character's Voice

Today on Do Some Damage, Dave White discusses his skepticism at the writer's claim to have lost a series character's voice, a skepticism that persisted until he lost Jackson Donne's voice.

"What do you writers think?" Dave asks. "Can a [character's] voice just go away?"

I commented:

I think it depends what kind of voice the character has in the first place. A distinctive, intimate, first-person voice can be tough to rediscover after writing others. By comparison, third-person characters rely less on voice.

A writer's method of drafting stories is another factor. A story can only be planned out so far. Its spontaneity comes from the voice(s) telling the story. Voices eventually deviate from plans, and if the writer doesn't follow, the story is often worse for it.

Like any style choice, there are pros and cons. You can probably stay in a character's voice if you write about him exclusively, but if you do, your overall writing may not develop much beyond that character. On the other hand, if you don't write a character for a long while--years, say--you may lose his voice.

I find it helps to make characters as well-rounded as possible, give them room to move within the lines that initially define them. The old adage is characters are consistent while people are not, but completely consistent characters--always do this, always say that--eventually get stale.

"What's he going to do in Book 15?"

Pretty much what he's done since Book 10.

I face the same issue whenever I go back to C.J. Stone. To work around it, I've made C.J. an unreliable narrator. Because the stories he tells most likely aren't the whole truth, I can change or discard details that don't serve future stories.

1 comment:

Van Hazard said...

I fully agree that character voices can be ephemeral things. They can be difficult to find and maintain unless you inhabit them, and they you, on a frequent basis. Creative ventures of any kind are also rooted in the moment, a particular time and space the author/artist happens to be in when they conceive of a project, and holding a voice, like holding a particular pov, can be relative to holding that moment.

Not an easy thing to do in any event. I know from personal experience; having just launched a blog written by a fictional character. Took me a while to find the voice. We'll see how long I can maintain it.