A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
This week on Author Allsorts we’re blogging about voice – do we as writers decide on voice before you start writing or does it emerge?
My story is a bit strange. The first incarnation of Banished was written third person past tense. I thought I had it nailed and was a bit swaggery about it. But I got feedback from an agent whom I respected greatly and she pointed out that the voice sounded self-conscious. I was flattened. How!? What!?
But in my heart of hearts I knew what she meant. It didn’t, however, stop me from being utterly miserable and emo about it. I thought I had it nailed after all.
I went back to Banished (circa 2011) and tossed out the entirety of 73,000 words and started from scratch. I made the conscious decision to write the entire story again, from the beginning. Only this time, I would be writing in first person present tense. It was so hard, I can’t even begin to describe how hard it was. But you know, within the first three chapters I thought I had something different. The voice and tone was entirely unique to anything that I’d done before. It was both more me and completely in my main character, Kit’s, voice. I sent it off to three people whom I trust implicitly (Sharon Jones from this blog being one of them) and the feedback was genuinely positive and I felt lifted. I think it was Sharon who replied: I don’t know what you’ve done or how you’re doing it but I think you’ve got it down! I think I floated around elated for a little while after that.
In my first draft I made the conscious decision to use third person past tense as I thought I could follow my main character closely and yet comment on situations she was in adequately and it turned out that this didn’t work for me. There was too much telling rather than showing. I had lost my confidence somewhere along the line and with it my voice and I had to go back and find it.
It was a huge revelation and something I pray I’ll never forget. I find myself now automatically falling into Kit’s voice when I write. It’s got a bite of wry sark I tend not to have in real life. I like being nice to people and can’t bear the thought that I’ve hurt someone. She is slightly tougher than me though and also not slow on telling people to back off. I think when you’re writing FP POV you do channel a part of you as the writer, but it also liberates you enough to be able to be someone entirely different. Using voice consciously is probably like method acting for actors. You can pretend to be anyone you’d like to be, just as long as you don’t lose track of who you really are.
Last week I wrote a short story for Halloween for my blog and I found that Megan’s voice (she is my main character Kit’s cousin) is completely different to Kit’s. She’s an accomplished thief and engineer and has no moral qualms about doing things we might feel bad about. Until I sat down to write that short story, Megan had been an important secondary character only and I’d never thought about her as a standalone ‘person’ and now of course, I genuinely want to write more stories featuring Megan. Ahem.
After some reflection, It would appear that ultimately, the revelation I accidentally stumbled across when it comes to this question of voice or story or character, I’d say it’s a mixture of all three things. Without knowing who my character is or what their story’s going to be there’s no voice. With no voice my character is a vanilla creature that’s no one interesting and so her life will be quiet and dull. I don’t think I’m able to divorce any of these traits from one another, after all!