The meaning of the term “voice” as it applies to writing seems to have changed over the years. At least it has for me.
In the past, everything about “voice” seemed to relate to the author, but today, with most popular fiction written strictly from the viewpoint of a character, I think the term “voice” applies more to the viewpoint character than to the writer.
It’s true that it will always be a synthesis of the author and the viewpoint character, because neither can completely shake the influence of the other, but in the stories I’ve read in recent years, it seems that the author and her “voice” are mainly a reflection of the personality of the viewpoint character and how she thinks, speaks and “writes” her own story.
My purpose in this site has always been to help people, myself included, write “meaningful page-turners.” (I’m probably helping my writing more than anyone else’s.)
I’ve always said that our job must be to first establish an interesting character with a quality about her that makes the reader personally care what happens to her. Then our job is to make her life’s plot and her fellow characters meaningful and spellbinding.
To make the main character seem alive and impossible not to care about, I’ve come to realize that one of the main ingredients is the way the writing reflects the character’s personality. As a reader, I want to feel that the viewpoint character wrote the story in her own words, or better yet, she told me the story through mental telepathy. The words I’m reading are merely a transcription of her thoughts.
So much is contained in the character’s “writing voice.”
An innocent twelve-year-old boy with high-functioning autism might say to the reader, regarding his sister,
“I know why she’s so smart. Because she remembers everything she reads.”
The fact that the little autistic boy confuses cause with effect shows him at a level that nothing else could. This is his voice. It’s not the author’s. The “narration” is his, just as the dialogue is his.
I’m beginning to think that this viewpoint character’s “writing” voice is often one of the top three ingredients that makes the reader initially care about the vp character. (The first is empathy. The second is probably danger or challenge to the VP character.)
The VP character’s “writing voice” also seems to be one of the key forces that makes the plot hold the reader to the end because it keeps the reader feeling as if all the plot twists are happening to a real person.
I’ve got a secret project going now in which I’m writing a story in first person, present tense. (Example: I stand in the room. “Shut up,” I tell him. He closes his mouth and listens.) To make things as real as possible to myself and to the “readers,” (who don’t exist) I’m writing the story on the internet and telling a potential lie (it would be a real lie if there were any readers). The lie is that I’m giving the impression that the viewpoint character is a real person (with a web site) who is telling everyone her own weird life story as it happens. She is supposedly telling it with a device on her ear that she speaks into all day long, saying whatever comes to mind, even repeating what other characters say. Other characters don’t think it’s normal, or even tolerable – the fact that she’s repeating everything they say and blabbing her every thought into a recording device.
In doing this I’m learning about the main character’s voice in a way that astounds me and opens my eyes to the subtle world of “writing voice.”
Writing in this potentially deceitful way makes it crystal clear to me when the viewpoint girl’s writing voice changes from the way she normally writes/ talks to the way I sound when I’m writing a story.
The reason it’s so clear is that I can fairly easily put myself into the mind of an anonymous reader who might happen along and start believing she is a real girl talking about her life. From that strange vantage point I’m keenly aware of when my potential lie is starting to fall apart.
Places where the writing slips into that “once upon a time” sound of my usual “writing voice.”
The only thing I don’t like about the whole thing is lying to the potential reader. It’s conceivable that a reader might come along and believe the lie, get sucked into this story and later feel hurt when it becomes obvious that it’s all a lie, the girl is made up and her life is just a novel.
Plus, I have sort of OCD-ish aversion to lying.
Yeah, I’m weirder than you. But you don’t mind, I bet.
Anyway, for now I can tolerate the lie that is my viewpoint character’s web site, simply because I have no readers there to lie to. I’m going to keep it that way by not telling my one reader, you, (or anyone else outside of my family who think it’s weird that I write fiction in the first place) where that website is.
I recommend that you try what I’m doing, especially the potential lie. assuming you make a new blog site that has no readers. (I think real lies are destroying our culture, but that’s another post.).
You could click on the button that makes your website private (on WordPress software), but if you do, the whole thing might not work for you. Taking away the “potential lie” might take away that strange feeling that you must keep the character’s “writing voice” believable to your “potential readers.” To me, anyway, the fact that a reader could truly show up and believe the whole thing creates a subconscious, but real-time motivation to keep the character sounding real and consistently like herself.
Anyway, since I’ve got no readers on that site, I don’t think it’s a real lie. It’s like Schrodinger’s cat, simultaneously dead and alive.
M. Talmage Moorehead
Update 9/22/14: I later discontinued that version of my novel, then spent a long time writing a new version in 3rd person, past tense. Abandoned that, and now I’m starting over and posting another total re-write on this blog. Here’s a link to page 1 of that ongoing story: Hapa Girl DNA. It’s science fiction set in the present with a ton of fringe non-fiction and many links, some of which blew my mind when I discovered them.
If you’re a new writer, or curious about my take on the so-called “rules,” download my
new aging e-book, Writing Meaningful Page-Turners, here. We’re lucky to be among the most influential minds on Earth. The last chapter talks about how to meet a viewpoint character who adds the dimension of joy to your fiction and to your life. For me, it was Johanna Fujiwara, my Hapa Girl protagonist. If you haven’t met someone in your fiction who means a lot to you, there’s an amazing experience waiting for you.