Later today Michelle Hauck and I will be tweeting out some of our wishes for what we’d like to see in the Sun Versus Snow entries. One word you will be hearing from me A LOT is voice.
Voice is a very tricky and elusive thing. It’s what agents are always saying they want to see in your pages – but what does it mean?
When I wrote my first manuscript I struggled a long time with what this term meant. Did my character have to talk with an accent? Should they be cursing or using slang all the time? The answer is no. VOICE is something organically grown within a character.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “What the hell does that mean?”
Let me give you an example using a recent book I read that had tons of voice, Mindy McGinnis’ NOT A DROP TO DRINK. The main character, Lynn, leads a very sheltered life living on her land, trying to protect the only source of fresh water in the area. Her environment and circumstances make her character suspicious of everything and everyone around her. Her sentences are filled with question and concern about what will happen next. In tense situations her words are short. Her phrases, clipped. As you follow her dialogue, you feel the tension in her VOICE.
Another great example of voice is Tahereh Mafi’s Juliette in SHATTER ME. As a reader not only do we experience Juliette’s outer dialogue, but inner voice (which is done through a series of slashed through sentences). It’s a unique way to develop the character – but it WORKS!
When I develop the voice for a character I think about their background. How did they grow up? What are their demons and struggles? Are they meek? Then their choice of words are going to be small. Their responses delivered in short sentences and whispers. If I’m trying to convey the strength of a character, their actions are going to speak louder than their words. They will stalk into a room with tense shoulders. When they do speak, their voice will dominate the conversation. If they have low self-esteem, their comebacks in intense scenes are going to be smartass replies, deflecting the real questions thrown at them.
Voice can be hard to pin down. I know because I’ve struggled with MANY of my characters over it. But I’ve found that if I discover what drives the character – what their hopes and fears are – I can use that motivation to formulate a voice that defines them.
When I find myself struggling, I go back to my favorite books and look at how the author built that character’s voice. Here are some of my favorites:
THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO – Patrick Ness
PUSHING THE LIMITS – Katie McGarry (Dual Male/Female POV)
TWISTED – Laurie Halse Anderson
STORY OF A GIRL – Sara Zarr
Good luck as you work on building your character! I’m looking forward to reading some amazing submissions tomorrow. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments.