Finding your characters’ voice

I have seen a few posts on POV (point of view), the most detailed and helpful being a recent one by Kristin Lamb which you can find here. I’m writing about it today, not because I have anything to add to what she said, but because this is a related point and it has come up while writing my current WIP.

Deciding on what POV you are going to take for your story and working out your characters’ voices are two different things but tightly interwoven. I use both first person and third person, not usually in the same novel (and it can take me a while to decide which works best) but my current WIP does have both which is something I will need to be careful about. And yes, I am well aware that Kristen says it’s not allowed. It’s my book, so my failure if it doesn’t work out. Leave me alone while I eat my mushroom.

The point I actually want to talk about is that just deciding on a POV is not enough. Whichever way you want to tell your story, whoever’s eyes you want to tell it through, your characters need a defining voice. They are, after all, supposed to be individual people, with feelings, thoughts, pasts and futures (unless they die, which is unfortunate).

In my case, and please remember that I don’t hold myself up to be an expert – I can only comment on what I have experienced personally on my own writing journey – I have found that character voice and POV have an effect on each other. I can’t really decide on one until I have decided on the other. For example, the heroine of my WIP is a teenager, just about to turn sixteen (which is also important but for other reasons) and this was my main motivation for telling the story, or at least her parts of it, in the first person.

Because teenagers aren’t necessarily able to deal with and articulate all the emotions they have roiling around inside at that point, I decided that first person POV was required. That way my character speaks for herself and I can report her feelings in her own voice, rather than having to try and articulate them as an onlooker.

Do you think I get a little too caught up in my characters? After all, I hear you cry, THEY’RE NOT REAL PEOPLE.

Except that, as far as I am concerned, at least for the duration of the WIP, THEY ARE. I have to feel what they feel and deeply, right down in my heart. I have to know what they know and the consequences that knowledge brings, the pain of past events and the hope of dreams for the future. I have to be inside them in order to write their stories because they are the only ones who know them well enough to tell them. Just as looking at a homeless person you can imagine all sorts of scenarios about how they ended up there, but only they can tell you the truth because they are the only ones who know it.


About Mhairi Simpson

Writer, dreamer. Magic, dragons, pink mice, cake. Come say hi!
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7 Responses to Finding your characters’ voice

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Finding your characters’ voice | Anne-Mhairi Simpson --

  2. Devon says:

    I have been laboring over this point for some time. I’ll write the beginning (several times) and not sure which voice to use. My idea is solid, but the narritive wisps away like smoke at times. But for me, forcing is not an option, so I wait until it settles inside, and tells me the story, ya, writers ar insane–to a degree.
    Good topic.

  3. Tanya Reimer says:

    Love this post.
    Yes, I agree, and just went into this a few weeks back. My post was caller–so close to the project you’re stupid. (Title says it all.)
    I have rewrote entire manuscripts and changed the POV. I’ve, of course, tried more bizzare things too, (like you and the 3rd an 1st POV–it was fun to break the rules).

    Like you said, it’s my fantasy, I can do what I want. Of course, I haven’t found an agent who agrees with me yet, but as my sister says, aren’t you the average reader? Please yourself, they’ll come around.
    Welcome to the crusade.

    • Hahahaha – I’m going to have to go and have a look at that post! I have found a couple of times that I have posted on the same topic as another author at the same time. I wonder if there is some kind of hive mind governing authors? Might post about that at some point, or use it in a book. Or both! Thanks for dropping by, I’ll come by to say hi 🙂

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