No, I don’t really mean your voice. I mean the voice of your novel. You’ve heard it all over the blogosphere: you’ve got to have an authentic voice, especially when writing for the teen market (which is huge right now. Did you see the announcement that Borders is making a teen section in their bookstores? Woot!).
So how does one do this?
Well, um, uh…
You’ve got to find the voice of the narrating character. Become them. Be one. This sounds deep, but it’s not, trust me.
Some people fill out character sheets. These are a good way to have all the pertinent information in one place. It’s a good start for finding the character’s voice, but it’s not really gonna get you there.
Well, take me for example. I bet you could name a lot of things about me. Hair color, eye color, height, weight (to a reasonable degree), where I work, how many kids I have, my favorite foods, color, music, things to do, birthday, etc. Heck, all you have to do is read my profile on blogger, Facebook or Myspace. Read a blog post or two, I reveal A LOT about myself. You could easily complete a character sheet on me.
Does that mean you know me?
Could you write a story with me as the narrator? If you read my blog, I bet you could. My voice is in every post. The way I talk and the way I write are pretty much the same.
And that’s where you find your character’s voice. In the writing. But I don’t mean the actual writing.
Yeah, you’re lost. Give me a second, I’ll bring you back.
I don’t think you can just sit down and start writing with an authentic voice. It usually takes me a few pages (meaning like, 50, sometimes more) to really “find” the character’s voice. Then I’ve got it. Then I just have to go back and fix those 50 pages.
So those first 50 pages don’t count as “actual writing”. It's exploratory writing, the writing you do to find the voice of the character. Once you’ve done that, you should be able to conduct a character interview. Ask your character questions, being sure to be yourself. Answer them, making sure to BE YOUR CHARACTER. You should know them so well, you know how they would sit for the interview. What they would do with their eyes, mouth, hair, hands, etc. while they’re talking.
Only then, do you really know your characters enough to write. And write for real this time. Only then will you be able to write with an authentic voice—one that is not your own, but that of your narrating character.
Try it! I conducted an interview with one of my main characters here. Do it, post it on your blog, and then be sure to let us know about it by leaving the link in the comments.
What do you think? Do you think you need exploratory writing time to find your character’s voice? How long does that usually take you? What steps do you take to find their voice?