Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

Pinning Down Voice January 17, 2014

Filed under: Blog,contest,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 8:42 am
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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:




PUSHING THE LIMITS – Katie McGarry (Dual Male/Female POV)


TWISTED – Laurie Halse Anderson




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.


8 Responses to “Pinning Down Voice”

  1. Shanah Davis Says:

    Hi, I will be keeping a close eye on this topic about “voice” in writing. I am still trying to glean the exact meaning of it as a part of the character’s charactersistcs, for lack of a better word. I love the Shatter Me trilogy because of what you describe as the “voice” of Juliette’s character, so I think I’ll also be re-reading it very soon. Thanks and keep up the great blogging! Very helpful & informative. I’ve reblogged everything I’ve seen of yours and I’ve only seen two, so I’m sure there will be more to reblog the more I read. 🙂

  2. Thanks for this article! I’m planning to take a one-day workshop on voice in a few weeks. I’ve read about voice in literature so much over the past year, but I’m not sure if I understand what it is or whether I need to work on my character’s voice. This article helps a little, plus it reminded me that I still need to sign up for that class. Off to do that now.

  3. tawney13 Says:

    I know I need to work on my character’s voice. I’m defianlty going to read some of the books you suggested. I wish everyone luck for the submissions. Have fun reading them!

  4. Yah, that voice thing. Tricky business. It took me many years to get one! And it’s something that I am continually trying to improve. And I can’t throw some curse words in there for more voice? Moth*&# Fu*&*(^!

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