By Lindsey Grant
Voice in fiction writing can refer to either the author’s voice, which is the style of writing that makes a work distinctively yours; or the narrator’s voice, which is the way in which a novel’s main character thinks, talks, or writes (in epistolary form) throughout the novel. This exercise will focus primarily on the latter, though you may learn a bit about your own writing style as you discover your character’s voice.
As the components of your novel come together, you will find that POV, character, and voice are all very closely related pieces of the puzzle. Before you start working on character voice, you'll need to identify from the perspective from which the main character or characters tell their story. Is this a first person narrative, in which the character will be guiding us through his or her own thoughts and experiences? If you are instead writing in the third person, do we as the reader have access to the character’s inner monologue? Or is the third person perspective limited only to what an outsider can observe of the events that are unfolding around your characters? (Even if you’re not convinced of your POV choice yet, writing through a couple different scenarios using dialogue, inner monologue, description, or the epistolary form can help you not just figure out your character’s voice, but also the POV you feel most comfortable writing from.)
Remember, the scenarios provided for the writing prompts below don’t need to be included in your novel; instead, they are meant to be instructive in revealing how your character interacts with others, thinks about the world, and communicates his or her thoughts. If you already have an idea or ideas about scenes you’d like to write into your novel, use one or some of those instead!
If you're writing your novel in the first person, choose a scenario below or make up your own in which your main character has a conversation with a secondary character.
If you’re writing from the third person omniscient perspective, write your character’s inner monologue on a subject below, or one of your choosing.
If you’re writing from the third person limited POV, describe a scene based solely on the events unfolding—that which can be observed—using a provided topic or one of your own. (Hint: This is where you will start to feel your own authorial voice taking over.)
Or, no matter what POV you’ve chosen, try writing a letter penned by your character about one of the provided topics, or one of your own.
- The death of a childhood pet
- Asking for a loan
- Catching a loved one in a lie
- Meeting a past or current idol
- Encountering an ex
Once you’ve completed your scene or scenes, look back at the way your character expresses him or herself, including the types of words he or she uses, the tone of his or her communication, and—if you’re able to distance yourself enough from your own character—the way his or her talking/writing/thinking makes you as the reader feel.
As you answer the questions below, you may find you need to revisit this exercise again to feel confident enough in your character’s voice to move forward.
1. Can you sum up your character’s voice in a sentence or two?
(eg: My main character talks a lot, without pausing, and often interrupts others, all in an effort to cover up his own nervousness and insecurities.)
2. Is your character’s voice consistent with the plot and tone of your novel?
(eg: Not really. My character thinks abstractly, veering into poetic ruminations on the world around him, but the action of the story is meant to be taut with suspense and fast-paced.)
3. Does your character’s voice lend itself to the POV you’ve chosen to write your novel from?
(eg: Yes. I didn’t want to write the book from a first person POV, but the inclusion of the letter-writing device allows the reader to glimpse the inner thoughts of my character from the character’s perspective. Best of both worlds!)
Lindsey Grant is the co-author of Ready, Set, Novel! A Writer's Workbook and author of the memoir Sleeps with Dogs: Tales of a Pet Nanny at the End of Her Leash. You can learn more about her and her work at sleepswithdogsbook.com.
All images courtesy of Julie Lewis