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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Writing 101 Part 5- The Power of "Voice"

In fiction there’s a point where the characters in a story begin speaking their own words to the reader. Where the characters come to life and tell their own stories. Some call this phenomenon“voice”.
The Phenomenon of “Voice” transpires in the readers head. It’s purely an experience of the readers imagination.

Many consider “voice” a mark of great writing. It’s a sign that the reader is connected to the characters. That they’re involved in the story. That the story feels “real” to them.

Sometimes a character’s “voice” is so strong that the reader begins to talk back to the book and the characters as if the characters are real people.

What’s great about “voice” is that it’s relative to each individual reader. No two readers will interpret what they read the same way. And because our imaginations are relative, no two readers will imagine the same character “voice” in their heads.

In most cases, Who the writer imagines in their ears telling will be totally different from who the reader hears telling their story.

How the Phenomenon of “voice” varies from story to story. In some types of stories it can take ten chapters or more for the characters to start speaking to the reader. In other stories, the reader can start hearing character voices in their imaginations from the first page.

From my personal experience third person narrative fiction often takes the longest for the reader to hear the “voice” of the characters and become involved in the story. Having to listen to two sets of storytellers (the narrator and the characters) slows down the reader and keeps them from getting deeply involved in the story.

For me, first-person-perspective stories usually establish a characters’ voice quickly in the readers imagination. In each chapter the reader is only listening to only one narrator and how they perceive what’s going on in the story.

I prefer writing in that style because I feel that that by writing in the first-person perspective it allows for the reader to hear a character tell their own story in their own words. Listening to someone tell their own story involves the reader on an emotional and a personal level.

Sometimes to establish a characters’ “voice” I’ll just listen to people talk. On the train, On the bus, sitting in an office, In the supermarket or on the street, or even at the dinnertable. Real-life conversations are often the inspiration for great dialogue for me.

In other cases I’ll get the inspiration for a characters’ voice from an actors’ performance or their body of work.

For Isis I watched several films starring actor Samuel L. Jackson.  In my head the character of Osiris sounded like the actor, but with a more subdued, humble tone.

For The Cassandra Cookbook/A Recipe For $ucce$$, I wanted an upbeat lighthearted tone to the characters’ voices. Moreover, I wanted an early 1960’s style way of speaking. So I watched a lot of 1960’s movies like The Apartment, Frankie and Annete Funicello Movies, and the Adam West Batman series. For some characters like David Bennett and Rob Carson, I watched movies featuring actor Keith David and movies starring actor Charles S. Dutton, who I felt had the authoritative tone of a corporate boss.

For E’steem the female antagonist The Temptation of John Haynes, I watched several films featuring actress Salli Richardson. While I remembered her articulate intelligent voice from the Disney Cartoon Gargoyles, it hadn’t been on the air for years. I needed to listen to her speech patterns again so I could establish the characters’ “voice” in my head again.

When I use actors to create a characters’ voice I study their speech patterns so that I have an understanding of how they talk. Then I incorporate that speech pattern into the character I’m creating.

In first-person perspective storytelling the phenomenon of “voice” is great not for just for telling a story but establishing characters. When characters tell their own stories they reveal themselves to the reader between the lines of the story. As the reader gets more involved in the story they see their actions and understand their motivations for doing what they do and why they do it.

Once I establish a characters’ “voice” oftentimes the story just falls into place. It’s just a matter of putting fingers to the keyboard and letting the characters speak through me. 

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