(Photo Credit)
(Photo Credit)

Whenever I write a long story, when I finish, I have to return to the beginning and rewrite the first section or to. This is true of most of the writers I know and there is a very simple reason: the voice of the story changes. I’ve written before (a long time ago) about finding your voice as an author, and Freedomchic, Selanya, and Paul have all written about issues touching on the issue of voice. However, if you aren’t familiar with the idea of ‘voice’, the concept is fairly simple. You’re voice as an author is your particular style, the panache or joie de vivre that you as an author bring to the story that makes it come to live. This is very different from the type or style of writing that you do (i.e. academic, journalistic, fiction, etc), or the genre in which you write (i.e. mystery, fantasy, thriller, etc). Your voice is what makes your writing stand out from all the other people writing essentially the same thing. Are you snarky, cynical, happy-go-lucky, humorous, surreal, dark, etc. What combination of the above do you bring to the table?

Just like you have a voice as an author, each story will also have a voice all its own. For instance, you might be writing a story that is whimsical, terrifying, tragic, or exciting. Each character in your story will also have his or her own voice. Consider Les Miserable: Jaen Valjaen, Fantine, and Javert all have very different voices that add different elements to the story. These voices intermingle to create the overwhelming mixture of hope, strength, obsession, and tragedy that make Les Miserable a classic as a novel, an opera, and a movie, and through it all the voice of Victor Hugo (the original author of Les Miserable) shines through with unmistakable clarity.

(Photo Credit)
(Photo Credit)

In fact, one of the reasons that Frank Herbert’s Dune is a masterpiece (arguably the best science fiction novel ever written) is that he interweaves not only the external voices, but also the internal voices of a great many powerful characters into a novel that not only makes sense, but conquers the imagination. With so many voices speaking at once the reader should be overwhelmed (as is the case with the vast majority of third person omniscient novels, and with the original Dune movies), but Herbert makes each voice so unique that they are not easily confused.

So, when you start writing a story, the first task is to find the individual voices of each character, and discern how those voices intermingle to create an overall voice for your story. It often takes a chapter or two to do this, and that’s alright. This isn’t something that you need to worry about. It does mean some rewriting when you finish the story to ensure that the first sections actually blend well with the rest of the story, but it isn’t really too much work, and if you can get the voice right early, then you have even less to worry about. So, get out there, get writing, and have fun!

3 thoughts on “Finding Your Voice for the Story

  1. Thanks for this post, Tobais. I have a lot of confusion over voice. My WIP has two protagonists, maybe two antagonists (not sure about that yet, still working on it), and counting the present day, 3 timelines. Yes, I picked a toughie for my debut novel. Anyway, I wondered how I could come up with a way to write this so that it wasn’t all back story because well, it pretty much is. So, what I am going to do is write sections, 1993, present day, and 1871. I am attempting to do each section as present for that time so it isn’t all flashback. It is a paranormal (ghost) historical mystery. Two in fact. One from the protagonist’s childhood 20 years previously, and one from 1871. So, my question on this is with two protagonist’s and two different mysteries to solve, and the two protagonist’s vastly different from one another, how does that effect the voice? Will it still be a single voice, or combined between the two? I am planning on using third person limited. Any thoughts on this? Hopefully I have expressed my question clearly. If not, please let me know. I appreciate it!

    1. Rebecca, what I would do is break the story into sections (this is pretty common in fantasy/sci fi) and write each section entirely from one character’s perspective and entirely in that character’s voice. Don’t let the voice of the other character intrude in a section that isn’t theirs. The novel Dracula is a good example of this. Stoker has… maybe… 5-6 very distinct voices in the story. So distinct, in fact, that a lot of audio versions actually have different people read for each voice. This almost turns the novel into a wonderful audio drama.

  2. Great! Yes, that is exactly what I meant to do. So the narrator voice is going to change with each section, is that right? The narrator is not going to be a character, so I wanted to be sure to have a distinct voice for each section, but the narrator would be different in each section? That is where I’m confused, I think. I was thinking that it would be the same narrator, but if it is happening in that time as present time, the narrators would have to be different, therefore a different voice. Is that right or am I confused again? 🙂

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