Wednesday, March 6, 2013

At the cost of destroying them.

Finding your voice is one topic I've covered at length in various other posts, but in the event that there is one of you whom has not found his voice, I will do a recap:

Your voice is not Jenny Freitag's voice. (unless you're Jenny)
Your voice is not Sarah Sundin's voice. (unless you're Sarah)
Your voice is not Kathryn Stockett's or C.S. Lewis's  or  anyone else's voice but your own.
This might seem a bit of an ambiguous explanation, but the the truth is, your voice is the flavor of your writing, and the only way to find it is by blocking out the recipe of everyone else's brew and taste-testing your own.

But finding your characters' voices....ah. That's a different breed altogether. See, to effectively write a book, there must be the author's trademark voice murmuring beneath the surface, but if you ever hope to let the world fall in love with your book-people, you must let them speak. As such, their voices will vary widely, and it's the most amazing thing to sit down with a book and encounter several different voices in the pages as the viewpoint switches from character to character. I'm not talking about literal "voices" as in specific accents, speech impediments, etc. I'm talking about a more...well, for lack of a better term, a more spiritual voice. The mental voice. The world-view voice. Who is your character and how do they perceive the world? What brought them to this stage in their lives? What effected them to the point that they behave in this manner and none other?
A crime some authors commit is to make their characters come alive only when they open their mouths or when we can read their thoughts. A blessing other authors bestow is having the character's personality transcend even into the narrative. Keeping my preferences on this subject in mind, here are a few examples of narrative from several of my stories, and a brief sketch of the scenario:

The Glass Half-Full and A Lemon-Wedge: an optimist and pessimist collide in the city and discover their lives are a bit more entwined than they'd expected.This bit is from the Lemon Wedge's narrative at the very beginning of this story:

A small town is near about the hardest place to hide anything, but a big town is ten times worse. I know, because I tried to hide the fact that I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, and The Glass Half Full found me out exactly three hours before I admitted it myself.
“Miss Garibaldi,” he said, and actually took off his glasses to say it (which is rather an uncommon thing)”I don’t believe you know what you’re doing.”
From now on I’ll refer to him as T.G. (The Glass) because everyone knows that trees are dying and if there aren’t trees there won’t be oxygen, and because I am dictating this to a secretary with stubby fingers and a wilted collar and he’s breathing like a racehorse with the blows, I would rather not waste extra words on the already diminishing atmosphere.

As you can see, this character is stressed, high-strung, and flips out about anything and everything she can get her claws into. Notice the fact that the Lemon Wedge uses run-on-sentences. Her life is out of control and she's at the point where venting is her coping system.

The Green Branding: my new historical fiction project. A shy, unready girl of the Colonial era is called upon to save her county from the marauding terrors of Banastre Tarleton and his men.

She seldom thought about Nathaniel’s leg since he’d lost it the year the War began. It had been four years since, and their beautiful corner of Virginia--the Isle of Wight--had changed little. The young men had disappeared by twos and threes, but then, Mary had never been bold enough to take much notice of gentlemen. Perhaps that was the reason she was nineteen and still unwed. So many girls fretted night and day that all the lads were gone to war and would likely be killed, and then there should be no men to marry. Sometimes Mary found it easy to forget there was such a thing as a War of Independence.
Easy, at least, in the daytime. It was the nightmare that plagued her and made her shun the River.
The same dream.
The same face floating  in the weeds.
The same sense of shame when she admitted the war inspired her with nothing but a wish to flee the county and fly somewhere far away where the only neighbors were red-winged blackbirds, and she was alone with none but Nathaniel for company.

Mary is an admitted coward and shrinks from Society. This will, of course, be one of the things that makes the task required of her so difficult. Her mental process is clouded and drear because she is living under the sense of a calling she refuses to fulfill. Recurring dreams in which she feels herself summoned to some fearful task...the knowledge that there might approach a time that demands her to break out of her comfortable shell of self-sufficiency and do something heroic for everyone else...

Fly Away Home: (yes, you knew Callie would appear, didn't you?) A buried past is not always a dead past. Callie Harper is set on a career of glamour and glitz. Will she sacrifice everything--even the reputation of her only friend--to attain it? A historical romance set in 1950's NYC.

      But even raspberry creams could not minister to a mind diseased. I swallowed my half only because I hated to waste perfectly good chocolate, and curled up in a tight ball in the chair. Life was miserable. I was miserable—more so, because I had come to a decision. I would have to go apologize to Mr. Wade Barnett. I wondered how humble pie tasted? But it wasn’t the humility that hurt the most—it was the fact that I was in the wrong. I had always prided myself on having the upper-hand of my emotions in every situation. Not so today. And I had hurt the only man I’d ever met who remotely seemed to care about me. Just peachy. I was certainly not a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize the rate I was going.

Callie's voice is jaded, but with unexpected springs of humor and whimsy that haven't entirely died under the pressure of professional life as a "liberated, modern woman." As she works alongside Wade Barnett, her voice softens--this was one of my favorite parts in writing Fly Away Home... getting to show the cultivation of a character's perceptions as her life changed.

This is the great beauty of being an author--and, of course, the great responsibility of it:
"Nevertheless, the free will of a genuinely created character has a certain reality, which the writer will defy at his peril. It does sometimes happen that the plot requires from its characters certain behavior which, when it comes to the point, no ingenuity on the author's part can force them into, except at the cost of destroying them."
-Dorothy Sayers The Mind of the Maker
The quote was, of course, talking more about events and scenarios into which the author tries to force the characters, but the same thing can be said of creating your character's voice. In a way the character creates his own voice. Or--to be clearer--the character's voice grows along with his personality. Just as the events of your life and your upbringing have effected the your perception of things today, so also runs the course of your characters' lives, and their mental state. You can't force a certain voice onto a character any more than you could force yourself to think like another person. Let the voice come naturally--it will. As you write you will become familiar with the people in your stories, and will be able to hear and write their own keen twist on life. It is such a fun thing, and one of the best moments for me in the whole writing process: when I have realized at last the way this or that person ticks, and how to incorporate that into the narrative.

Do your characters have distinct voices? Whom was the most fun to write?


Joy said...

I love this post to bits, Rachel. I've been thinking a bit on voice lately - both mine and the voices of my characters - and this post helped clear some thoughts in my head a bit. I love your snippets which give examples of what you're talking about.

I find a strong voice in two of my characters, Anthea (she's a round bubble of vivacious silliness and high temper) and her brother, Valerius who is far quieter, brooding and silent.

I loved how you said that one can put the voice of characters in the narrative - not just the dialogue. Though I think this is especially so when one writers in first person. That said, do you prefer writing in third or first person usually?

Rachel Heffington said...

Generally I prefer whatever the story needs. Callie's story just would not sit in simple third person, so I got up close and personal with first. First person has the advantage of being very close, but third has the advantage of letting you make observations that are a little less biased. :)

Unknown said...

I'm intrigued by the colonial story and looks forward to reading more of it.