So, how do you establish the voice of your novel? I've read it around a lot of publishing blogs. The voice of your novel is a deal breaker. Meaning, you need to have one. A strong one.
Most of us have a natural writing voice. It comes through in our blog posts, our informal emails, even out loud when we speak. You can write a novel in "your" voice. But what happens if you've A) already done that? or B) your voice doesn't match your character's story?
Picture this: You sit down to write. You proceed to stare. Because you can't find your character's voice. Or your voice. Or any voice. This happened to me. I had a main character. He was in my head, talking away. He had a story. But he was vanilla. And while I like vanilla, I like it better with caramel and pecans and some of those peanut-butter-filled footballs. A lot better.
So how do you capture a new voice, one that isn't as familiar to you? Here are a few tips and tricks I learned as I went through this exact same problem.
Tip #1: Voice can't be forced, but it can be found.If you're having trouble finding your characters voice, sit down to free-write from the point of view of that character. But don't write your novel.
What I Did: I imagined my MC in a high-stress situation, like he's been dating his best friend's sister, and his buddy just found out. I didn't worry about backstory, because I can imagine a situation like that. I simply wrote DIALOGUE my character would have with his bff. (Or do girls only have bff's?) The scene was mostly dialogue with some physical clues thrown in for emotional impact.
This showed me A) how my MC reacts in a tense scene and B) how he talks.
Then I imagined a completely different scenario. One where my character would have to convey information to the reader. Since I had just learned how he talked, I transferred that to narration. This second piece contained no dialogue whatsoever. Only narration. Establishing setting with sight, smell, taste, etc.
This showed me A) what details he might notice and B) how to move the unique voice most of us can establish in DIALOGUE into NARRATION.
Trick #2: Choose something unique and have your character use it consistently.This is done to develop character, which is one of the parts of voice in a piece of writing. In Scott Westerfeld's PEEPS, one of the characters calls everyone "Dude." In Stephanie Meyer's TWILIGHT saga, Jacob always says, "Sure, sure." In Kristin Cashore's GRACELING, her narrating character begins a lot of sentences -- both in narration and in dialogue -- with "Well".
What I Did: In my first novel, my character starts a lot of her sentences with "Yeah". (ex: Yeah, that doesn't work for me. If you read my personal blog at all, you'll notice that I do the same thing.) So I certainly couldn't do that again. As I was free-writing, I seized on a word that my MC said, and now it's his "thing." He uses it in dialogue and in narration. It's not something I would've chosen on my own, but something I was looking for during the free-write session.
Tip #3: Don't go overboard.Don't get me wrong. Voice is essential in a piece of writing. But it's essential the same way baking soda is in cookies. No baking soda = flat cookies. No voice = flat writing.
But how much baking soda do you put in? Not as much as the flour. Think about it.
So watch yourself. Sprinkle it in consistently, but don't take off the lid and dump it on us.
I might be back with another post on voice. How do you find the voice you write with?