Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Voice (Part 3): Silence is Golden

Have you ever started reading a novel that just captivated you right from the start, draws you in, only to lose you halfway through the book because you realize you're actually...reading?

When you pick up a pen, pencil, or touch fingers to a keypad to begin laying out your story on paper, it's only too easy to lose ourselves in the world which we are creating. When we are in that 'zone' it's easy to forget everything else and become so focused that we literally become one with our writing. Your characters come to life in ways that surprise even you--every detail pours from your fingertips effortlessly.

Then the unthinkable happens...We confuse our author's voice with our opinions and in the process--obliterate the character's voice. Let's jump right into this with an example. This is an excerpt from my novel Yours for a Day before editing was applied....

Kiley felt dumb sitting on the back of a motorcycle with no idea where they were going. She had her arms wrapped tightly around him. There was only one helmet and she was wearing it, along with a bandanna, which covered her eyes. "I can't see."

Royce had to slow down to be heard. "You don't have to." He was the one driving after all.

“That’s what I’m worried about. Motorcycles are for young people. You’re a thirty four year old man.” When he didn't respond, Kiley knew she'd rubbed him the wrong way, so she changed the subject."Where are we going?"

“You’ll see.”

She sighed, clinging tighter when she felt the bike tilt to the right.

“You’d better be nice to the driver," he told her.

“Or what? You’ll push me off?”

“Maybe.” He sped up suddenly and then laughed because it made her yelp.

Not horrible but not good either. I let my opinions be heard in this by telling what the characters were doing and feeling instead of letting them show it. That is a common mistake. We might be tempted to 'set the stage' for our readers but we need to resist that urge and allow the story to reveal itself through the actions and dialogue of our characters. Make it a part of the story instead of creating a pause to tell what's going on. Nothing will make your readers close your book faster. It makes them realize they're actually reading. We don't want any of that. Now here is that same passage, revised....

“This is so dumb,” Kiley complained loudly. “I can’t see where I’m going behind this stupid blindfold.”

She felt Royce’s chest rumble beneath her arms as she clung to him. "You don't have to,” Royce slowed the motorcycle down to be heard. “I’m the one driving.”

“That’s what I’m worried about. Motorcycles are for young people. You’re a thirty four year old man.” Kiley felt him stiffen beneath her and she suppressed a grin. “Just kidding. But seriously, where are we going?”

“You’ll see.”

Her sigh was lost in a sharp left turn. "Hey! Watch it!" She tightened her grip, feeling a thrill prickle her skin.

“You’d better be nice to the driver.”

“Or what? You’ll push me off?”

He sped up suddenly, laughing when she let out a yelp. "Maybe."

Still not great but that's the wonderful thing about editing--it never ends. :) Well, it should at some point but we all know the feeling.

The author (us) should never be present in our stories. Our characters come to life in our minds for a reason--they want to come to life on paper. They have a story to tell damn it and you should not get in the way of that. Don't confuse your voice with that of your characters. A way to do that is a.) Practicing, as in write! b.) Learn how to show and not tell. It's true that most of our characters portray us in one way or another. We make them act and handle situations in a fashion similar to what we'd do but we have to remember that they are NOT us. It's hard to separate ourselves--our opinions--from that of the narrator (the character) but we have to! Otherwise how will our characters be heard?

So as you glance over your writing, repeat after me:
"I am not my character."
"I will not use my character to echo my opinions/views."
"My characters will have their own voice in telling their story."

Embrace your author's voice. Resist adding your opinions. Show--don't tell.

Write your story and write it well.

Happy Writing!

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero, but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author. ~G. K. Chesterton


  1. Loved it, especially the bit you used from YFAD.

  2. Excellently done. :) Though I wonder how that faulty show don't tell aspect (too much author voice) would show up in a first-person novel? Or is it very much the same?

  3. Thanks for linking up with Let's Get Social Sunday! I'm your newest follower and hope to see you again next week! (Sorry I'm a bit slow this week)

  4. I'm guilty of the same. Sometimes I worry that I may have schizophrenia, because each of my characters have a little piece of me! Note to self - seek help!
    I'm stuck in edit/re-edit mode and I don't know how to stop it - seek help for that also.

    I wanted to formally let you know that I have given you an Award on my blog today! Please stop by and ckeck it out ... http://moanabrantwood.blogspot.com/2011/02/awards-are-so-sweet.html I hope you’ll join in the fun!

    Your blog is very special and I enjoy your writings immensely. Blessings, and continued inspiration to you
    Moana Brantwood <|^)

  5. I'm almost sad to see an end to this series on Voice. Surely there are many more things that can be said to help us...i.e. me, grow as authors. Oh well, anothwer wonderful piece.

  6. @Jessica thank you for following and I look forward to reading your posts and comments :)

    @Moana Oh my! Thank you so much for that! You have no idea how much I appreciate it!

    @dfmatthews There is so much more that can be talked about in this subject but for now this series is over. I will pick it up in the future so no worries :D

  7. I do hope you post more on voice in the future. You're absolutely right about having almost ending conversations about this topic :) Why not explore every one of them?
    Can't wait for your next blog post on Monday and I'm looking forward to tomorrow's book review!

  8. I'm sad it's over too. You should do more series blogs :)

  9. I am probably guilty of letting me show up too much in my stories, especially when writing in Helena's POV. I love the way you explained this, and the example you used from YFAD was very helpful in showing me how you can show instead of tell.

    Excellent job on all three parts!


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