Whose Voice Is It Anyway?

Something that came up during the Saturday meeting, and it was really just a small hiccup in the speaker's presentation, was the issue of Voice.

Not just the writer's voice, but the writer's voice in relation to the character's voice.

Our characters are each unique in our heads, but when we're writing them, do they sound like us? Are they distinct in their mannerisms, thoughts, word usages, and point of views? The voice (or style) of our writing will come through, especially if it's strong, but we need to make sure it doesn't overshadow our characters.

I really appreciated the conversation and everyones' input as this is something I've wondered about and hoped I didn't do.

Have you encountered this in your manuscripts? Your voice superimposing itself onto the characters? What about books? Ever read one where everyone sounded the same?


I have to work really hard to get a different voice in narrative it seems for each of my characters. THeir dialogue is easier, though.

Still trying to master this one.
Me too, Eileen. Dialogue can be easier, you're right.
anita said…
Jessie, you're great at keeping "your voice" out of character's voices. Each of your characters have distinctive POVs. yet there is still a "feel" to your books that make them yours.

I think where a writer's unique essence comes in is through their prose/style. The exoskeleton of the story--what holds everything else in place. Like the way they put sentences together, use words to describe emotions, details, and so on...

But when their POV characters are talking or thinking, the character's likes/dislikes/opinons/and beliefs should overshadow whatever the author might believe, etc...

For example, my heroine right now is a butterfly breeder, and she often thinks of things within the confines of nature, which comes through in comparisons and analogies in her inner narrative.

It's like, as the author, we look through the kaleidoscope of each character's history and motivations, using those colors to paint our prose. Does that make sense? I've no idea. It's six o'clock in the morning, after all. Snort!
anita said…
Okay, my comment post says it's seven thirty, but I swear, it's six thirty where I am and I'm SLEEPY. Heehee
Go back to sleep!!! LOL
I totally agree with your comment. :-) It's a balance to keep my voice from overshadowing the characters. Thanks for saying I do well with that. Hopefully I can keep doing well.
Good question and food for thought!

I find myself applying my voice to each character and it's hard to separate myself from the character and think and feel like they would. Probably why I write most things in first person!
Jody Hedlund said…
This is something that I have to really think about as I'm writing to make sure I'm doing. I hope I can keep on improving in it with each book! I find that if I really know my characters well, it more naturally flows into my writing.
Hi Donna and Jody,
First person would be a good way to keep things straight, right? LOL But then we still have to keep things in character, etc.
I'm glad I'm not the only one who has to work at this. :-)
I struggle with this! I have no idea if the character's voice is mine or not. It is hard! Maybe with a few more ms under my belt the voices will ring clearer.
MeganRebekah said…
The Twilight series comes to mind. Everyone sounded and spoke the same way.

I work with it constantly. Stopping to ask myself, would this character say/do this? How would someone like them react to this situation?
Kristen Painter said…
I work very hard to make sure my characters sound like themselves and not me. Only one character per book is allowed to sound like me. lol
Stephanie Faris said…
I try, but I'm not sure how successful I am. This is especially tough when I'm writing for teens. I have to go to a different place in my head for those characters' voices.
Katie Ganshert said…
This is tricky...something I always struggle with. To avoid it, I really try to get in my character's head, think like my character and make sure what I write would be something my character would say. Not easy. And I know I mess up a lot. :)
Cindy R. Wilson said…
I definitely worry about this. I've had people tell me before that they could definitely tell I wrote the book by what my characters were saying and their responses. Uh oh! I think sometimes that's okay but most of the time you want the character to be unique and speak for themselves.

Also, recently I had to rewrite a scene because I was having my character react to something in a way that didn't seem to fit her personality. She was reacting in the way I would, not how she would.

Sometimes it's so simple to give them life of their own and others...not as much!
Danyelle L. said…
Most of the time, my characters are yelling so loud that I can't hear myself. O:) That being said, there are a few that sounded like me towards the first of the story, before I really got to know them, and nail down their voice.

Some characters are more vocal than others. :D
denise petrovich said…
I have never read a book where everyone sounded the same and if I did start one (for there are many I quit reading) I was probably bored. I am not a writer but I have often dreamed of it and I can imagine it would be very hard to keep your own voice from superimposing itself onto your characters. Good luck to all you writers out there. Love Mom
Dara said…
I have to work extra hard for my personal voice not to affect the characters' voices. Like you said, I can hear them clearly in my head, each with their unique voice and mannerisms, yet my voice sometimes tries to eclipse theirs when I am putting it on paper.

Some characters are easier to write than others, too. I have found with a concentrated effort, it has been getting slightly easier for me to access them and silence my personal voice.

There have been books, especially ones where the author is doing multiple first person POV, where they all sound the same. It gets bad when the characters are male and female and they sound exactly the same (I remember that for one book in particular). I got so frustrated because it would take me a full page to realize it wasn't the character I thought it was (because the POVs didn't alternate at either; there was no pattern to it). I stopped after 100 pages into it. It's too bad because the actual story and setting were so promising.
I'm certain Barbara Kingsolver nailed this best in The Poisonwood Bible--so many fresh, unique perspectives done right!

My MC sometimes annoyed me in my first novel...but I'm sure that was something about myself leaking on the page. :D

~ Wendy
i did this not too long ago with my heroine and thankfully my crit partner caught it. the hero said something like this,"I've been hoping we'd meet up again, b/c I have a feeling we got off on the wrong note." the heroine responds with an internal thought of, "Wrong note? How about a whole sonata?" while i thought it was stellar from my almost-music-major self, the average person wouldn't have used the word sonata! so i changed it to the more generic "song."
Katie Salidas said…
I struggle with this. I tend to lend my voice too much to my MC. It usually takes someone reminding me before I see it. Then come the rewrites. LoL.
Wow, thank you guys so much for sharing! I love hearing about your struggles. LOL Is that bad? Heeehee. But I also love how you all have encountered this and are learning how to fix it, like I am. Some of you mentioned fixing it in revisions, and Kristen, love your idea of one character getting to sound like you per book. LOL! Jeannie, funny about the sonata thought. I would never, ever use that word. :-)
Now I'm fixing to check my blog list and see who's posted something for me to read. :-)
Jill Kemerer said…
Yep. My voice has taken over my character's. Luckily, I'm good at spotting it during revisions, but it does make me dig and get to know my characters better.
Keli Gwyn said…
When I received feedback from one of my first contest judges, she said all my characters sounded the same. Oops! I hope that's not the case today, but giving my characters distinctive voices can be challenging at times.
I'd imagine so, Jill. Thank goodness for revisions, right?
Well, Keli,
Having been honored to judge one of your entries, I can say without doubt that you rock at making your characters different. They were so real that I still remember them, esp. your snooty, decorative heroine. :-)
I only hope my characters are unique!
LOL I've no doubt they are. :-)
Jennifer Shirk said…
One of the books I bought before summer had all the characters sounding the same. It gave me a headache and I gave the book up at chapter 5. :(
Warren Baldwin said…
"Ever read one where everyone sounded the same?" Yes, just recently. I've only started reading novels consistently about 2 years ago. So, I don't know a lot about the specifics that make me like or not like a novel - I'm just learning to identify those igredients now. One thing I've learned is that characters can be boring - too predictable, to unreal. Just finished one of those novels that was given to me as a gift. What do you do with such a book after you've read it?
Debra E. Marvin said…
Hi Jessica.
I'm late jumping in but I think this is something I worry about. It really helps to have good CPs who can pick it up. I have tried to go through and only read the lines my character is saying and stay in their heads. This might be even more important when it's not a scene in their POV.
As to your comment on my "mothers who give up their children" thingee -- I respect them too, Jessica -- although sometimes the ones the mother leaves their children to are no better people or sometimes worse than the mother herself! However, those things happen!

I respect my stepmother for taking my 2 brothers and I, one at a time no less, and then adopting us. She had two of her own - five kids! eek! But, she kept us together and I will always respect and love her for that! oh wait, I meant to put this on my blog comments *laugh*...
Hi Jess -

I have to watch my characters' mannerisms more than their speech. Too many fingers raking through the hair, etc. LOL!

Susan :)
Oooh Jennifer,
Do you hate giving up on a book or is it easy for you? Before I had kids I always read a book until the end. Now I just don't have time. Mostly I'll try, but there have been one or two I've given up. Sorry to hear about that.
Hi Warren,
Re-gift? LOL Seriously, if it's Christian, stick it in your church library. There are books I've thought were so completely boring that other people thought were awesome. Taste is so subjective.

Welcome to the world of reading!!! I've lived here since I was five. LOL It's a wonderful, beautiful place. What genres are you finding to be your favorite so far?
Tabitha Bird said…
this is something I have really started thinking about. It occurred to me that unless I am writing about myself, the other characters are unique and thus need to come across that way. Very difficult when what I think is always in my head, but getting into character's heads is quite a different thing! Great post.
You're not late Debra. :-) My posts stay up for two days each.
What a great idea to read just their lines out loud, and not in their pov...I've never done this before.
LOL Susan! I do the same thing.
:-) Actions are just as important as dialogue in making a character unique.
Thanks Tabitha,
It can be difficult. I'm struggling right now with a character who did something I would never, ever do, something I have little sympathy for. It's tough, for sure, but worth it when we get it right. :-)
Grace said…
I used to have that kind of encounter, too. I ignored it and it doesn't bother me anymore.
Have a wonderful day, Jessica. :)
Thanks for stopping by Grace. :-)
I try to give all of my characters different voices through dialogue, but I think that in the writing between that my own voice sometimes comes through a bit more than it should. Then again when I read books by Janet Evanovich I think her voice in different series (Stephanie Plum and her newer Motor Mouth) sounds pretty similar as well.
Hi Kate,
I think our voice is always going to come through. I mean, it's word choice, sentence structure, etc. That's why it's so hard to make sure our characters' voices are coming through too.
I'm feel the same about N Roberts. I could recognize one of her books a mile away, just because her voice is so strong.
Jessica: Excellent post, as usual!

Although I write NF, I must still be careful that my "characters'" voices come through authentically, reflecting their true personalities. The temptation is to make yourself look funny and smart, and everyone else a buffoon. But real life is that I'm more often the buffoon.

Jen, you say that but I've never seen you act like a buffoon. You seem very sweet and kind. :-)
Genny said…
Yes, I've definintely encountered my own voice coming through in my writing, instead of my character's voice.

I think voice is the most important thing in writing fiction.
I think so too Genny. It's what distinguishes us from everyone else.
Tana said…
You mean my MC isn't supposed to be an extension of myself? *gasp* (That'll be our little secret....shhh)
Tana said…
OOOH I forgot to add, LOVE your new picture!!!!!! You are so beautious but then, you probably hear that all the time! ;)
LOL T. Anne! Your MC can be an extension, but someone might pick up on that. Heheee.

Thank you for the compliment. *blush* Actually, I can count on one hand the number of people who've told me I'm beautiful.
I like this pic because it softens my strong features, like my huge honker of a nose. Snort!! (you hear how loud that was? lol)
You're very sweet to comment on my pic. Now when are you gonna get a pic up? I know you must be cute, all those celebrities hitting on you. LOL!
Terri Tiffany said…
Did you get a new picture? Like it.
I always worry my own voice will be in all my characters--and struggle with that.
Hi Terri, yep, new pic. I worry too, but I think we'll get it.
Victoria Dixon said…
Great Question! I've never had anyone say one character sounded like another. I've had one character's voice become unclear, but that was as much because I lost track of how old my character was as anything. I deliberately decided on quirks, mannerisms (speech and physical) that various characters had. Since I have many characters, it was necessary. It also seems to have worked.

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