Every writer is familiar with the idea of voice. Every writer has their own author voice. Some are terse; some lyrical. Some are plot oriented; some character. It takes time to develop, but eventually every writer finds a voice that is uniquely theirs.
When writing fiction, however, authorial voice is not enough. Our characters have to have their own strong voice, particularly if the story is in first person.
Character voice is a concept I understand but don’t “get”. My brain understands character voice, and I know it when I read it:
“Tom and me found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, and it made us rich. We got six thousand dollars apiece—all gold. It was an awful sight of money when it was piled up. Well, Judge Thatcher he took it and put it out at interest, and it fetched us a dollar a day apiece all the year round—more than a body could tell what to do with. The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied. But Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable. So I went back.”
– The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
“I knew there was going to be trouble the minute I saw him, which was the minute that tall man carried me over to the kennel and said, ‘I bet you two will get along.’ Immediately I said at the top of my lungs, ‘WHAT? WHAT? DO YOU SEE THE SIZE OF THAT DOG? DO YOU SEE THE SIZE OF ME? How can you expect me to share space with a HIPPOPOTAMUS DISGUISED AS A CANINE? All the fur isn’t fooling ME. I am going to get SQUASHED BY GIANT PAWS and THEN where would the world be? ME-LESS, I tell you! I DEMAND A PRIVATE KENNEL! DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?’” – The Incredibly Important True Story of Me! by Tui T. Sutherland (in the anthology Lucky Dog: Twelve Tales of Rescued Dogs)
But I find it very hard to get right on the page.
My first few novels only had a single point of view character, so if there was a significant overlap between author voice and character voice, it wasn’t terribly noticeable.
My current work in progress, however, has 3 POV characters—a significant departure for me. The problem is that they all need to sound distinctly different from one another, which I am finding difficult.
Some writers have suggested maybe I do not know these characters well enough to hear their voices. Perhaps they are correct, although I feel I know these characters intimately. I have never been a writer who “hears” their characters talking to them in their head. It’s apparently not how my creative brain works.
However, in chipping away at the revisions, the three voices have become more distinct. The last to fall into place was my 16-year-old boy’s voice, but I did finally hear him loud and clear. Now I can only hope I can get all that onto the page.
We worked on character voice in one of Kathryn Craft’s Craftwriting workshops, and I feel that I am edging closer to “getting” it. I hope someday that character voice will be an element I master so I do it more unconsciously. Then I can move on to improving another aspect of my craft.
Does character voice come easily to you? Or do you find them all sounding like mini-mes?