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Tuesday
Sep012009

Author Voice vs. Character Voice

 

Last week Susan over at A Walk in My Shoes did a post on the importance of voice. I enjoyed her post, so I'm stealing her topic and expanding on it. :) Voice is one of the most often sited components of writing a great story/novel. Publishers are looking for a strong voice, a fresh voice, a clear voice, etc. Unfortunately, it's also one of the things that we as writers struggle with and stress about the most.
I think the first thing that confused me early on was the difference between author voice and character voice. At first, I thought they were the same thing. They're not.
 
Author voice "encompasses word choice, rhythm, pacing, style, tone and structure." (source)
Character voice also affects word choice, rhythm, and pacing. But in character voice those things are influenced by the character's background, history, age, education, regional location, time period, etc.
Crystal clear, right? *snort*
Okay, maybe this will help, because it definitely helped me. I attended a workshop at the DFW Writer's Conference given by author Candace Havens. She explained author voice by saying that you could pick up any one of her books no matter what the subject/character/plot and know that she wrote it.
That made sense to me. I've written a first person YA and a third person contemporary romance. Obviously, my character voice needed to be different in both. My teen MC in the YA can't sound like my male protagonist in my romance. (Although, that would be pretty funny.) But, when people look at both manuscripts, they recognize my style in both.
My author voice is snarky, casual, and chatty. My books will never be filled with lyrical prose and elegant descriptions. Even if I'm writing a story with serious elements, humor will always be present. Why? Because that's who I am. I don't take life very seriously. Sarcasm is my favorite pastime. Self-depracation is a way of life for me. I can't escape my voice.
So there's good news in that! Voice just is. (Read your own blog, you'll see your voice shining through.) We can hone it and analyze it and improve it but our author voice is already there. It's who we are. The only thing that gets in the way of it is when we try to imitate some other author's voice. "I want to write books just like..." It's good to study other people's writings and pick out what you enjoy about it, but be careful not to let what you "think" your voice should be overtake what it actually is.
So, if author voice is just waiting there to be discovered, what we probably need to worry about more is making sure we have an accurate character voice for each of our players. To do this, we need to analyze our characters, get into their head, know their history. As one of my handy dandy critiquers recently pointed out about one of my characters: she's from the south, she wouldn't say "you guys", she would say "y'all". Of course, I know this (being southern and a over-user of y'all) but I lost her voice for a minute trying to sound more proper. These are the small nuances we have to watch out for. If our characters don't sound believable, we'll lose the reader.
Well, that's my take on the whole thing, but I'd like to hear your opinions.
How do you define your author voice? Do you struggle with either type of voice? Have you ever caught your characters saying something they totally wouldn't say if they existed in real life? Which author's voice do you enjoy the most?
**Today's Theme Song**
"Voices Carry" - Til Tuesday
(player in sidebar--go ahead, take a listen)

 

Reader Comments (12)

Interesting post! Jennifer Weiner does a really great job of this in "Certain Girls" - POV switches from mother (which I think = author's voice) and 13-year-old daughter (full of, like, excruciating angst).

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I struggle with this sometimes when I force a character to sound more like me, or like each other, or lose their essence, as you described above. I would then have to immerse myself in the character again and rewrite.

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnna C. Morrison

I think our voice is intrinsic to who we are. It can't be faked. But we definitely have to work on character's voices...to prevent them from sounding the same.

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Faris

Thanks for making the distinction between author and character voice. That’s helpful and interesting to ponder. Frankly, I never gave voice much consideration; mine or my characters. I simply have a very clear vision of who they are, how they behave and express themselves, and that seems to come across when I write them. Although when I write in first person (male character, incidentally) I find he sounds a lot like me. Not sure what that says…

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjbchicoine

I think my author voice just happens--I worry more about creating believable character voices.

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStrange Fiction

You're right about the distinction. I think I'm at a point at which I've developed my author's voice and it's very clear, so now I focus entirely on characterizing those figures that carry the stories in my novels.

Thanks for sharing, Roni!

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWeronika

Another great post, Roni!

I think my biggest issue with voice is making my secondary characters sound different from one another.

I don't have one favorite author, but I love Meg Cabot's voice.

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDawn VanderMeer

I agree with Stephanie. Your author voice is who you are. But character voices need to be thought about more and worked on.
I can't stand it when I read a book where the characters sound the same.

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Shirk

wow, thanks, that made that clear. I was fuzzy on the difference between author voice and character voice. Thanks for this post. Very useful as I re-write my first MS.

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTabitha Bird

My favorite author is J.R. Ward. Her books have several character's POVs but it is never hard for me to tell who is telling the story because of their thoughts. It must be hard to write that way but it is so much fun to read.

September 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

I wasn't sure about my voice until a friend recently sent me two chapters of a story I'd written probably seven years ago, and forgotten about. He'd saved the chapters. When I read them, I was amazed at how my voice hasn't changed, even though the story wasn't great. There was a nugget of interesting story in there, but the voice...it was really interesting. So if you have any long-forgotten writing that you can dig up, it's a good way to identify your style. I wondered if I had a strong voice until I read that old work.

September 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSierra Godfrey

GREAT post on vioce! This is such a dodgy one to nail down and you did a great job showing the difference between the two.

LOL, sounds like are voices are similar.

September 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

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