I’m struggling with voice!

A couple of posts back, I blogged about voice, and now I’m struggling with the voice of my own work!  Don’t you just hate that?

I’m not exactly sure what the problem is, except that despite point of view changes, the narration all sounds the same.  It’s also choppy and lacks depth. 

Until yesterday, I had no idea what to do about it, but while drifting off to sleep last night I had an ‘a ha!’.  I’ve decided that when writing the second draft, I’m going to work with one point of view first from the beginning of their narration to the end before moving on to another point of view.  Now that I’ve got the story down, I don’t need to keep things like timelines in mind and I don’t have to write in order. 

Working on one point of view will help me to develop that character’s voice and to deepen the narration until it flows.  How do I know it’ll work?  I don’t, but when I thought of it I got that buzz in your belly that tells you you’re on the right track. 

Fingers crossed!

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The Importance of Voice

I don’t review books on this blog (who cares what I think about a new novel or film?) but I recently read a book that had such a distinctive voice, it got me hooked from the first sentence.  The book is The Whale Road by Robert Low.  It’s the first part of a trilogy in the genre of historical fiction, something I don’t often read.  The story is set in 965AD and is about a group of wandering warriors looking for a fortune in a world that no longer needs them. 

Low uses language in a clever and engaging way, and I’ve learnt a valuable lesson.  Low uses Norse names and words to give the reader a sense of place while keeping the sentence structure clear and straightforward.  The voice of the narrator, fifteen year old Orm Ruriksson, is uncomplicated but with the lilt of the storyteller.  I was particularly impressed with the first couple of chapters of the book, when Orm is both relating events in the ‘present’ while referring back to his experiences of the near past without my getting confused. 

While the book is clearly written, the psychological and political dynamics it portrays are anything but, and I was captivated by the push and pull of desperate men struggling to live with an oath that binds them to each other, all presented through the honest voice of young Orm.  I’ve probably not done the book justice here (another reason why I don’t do reviews!), but it has got me thinking about my own writing style and how explanation and emotion can be woven into a story seemlessly without it feeling like a lecture.  I can only hope to achieve that myself.

A problem with 1st person

I was thinking today about how many books I’ve read lately that didn’t feel satisfying due to the lack of plot development.  Often, the conflict between protagonist and antagonist in particular is flat and one dimensional.  In particular, the antagonist isn’t developed into a fully rounded character with his or her own drive, agenda and needs.   Most of the action revolves around the protagonist (usually pursuing an evolving relationship with another main character), and the antagonist is left as some vague threat in the background.  The antagonist rocks up every now and then to cause some grief, but we don’t really get a sense of what they want or why they want it.

Then I realised another interesting fact.  Most if not all of these books are in the first person.  As someone who writes in first person as well as third, I’m well aware of the drawbacks in terms of limited point of view.  I considered if this is another drawback, the lack of opportunity to fully explore motivation and character.

I came to the conclusion that it isn’t an inevitable consequence of first person, just poor craft.  I cringe in saying that, knowing how hard it is to write a book, let alone get one published!  But I’m someone who loves to read, and I can see how much more compelling a story is if the author has taken the time to get to know all of their main characters, not just the ‘good guys’.  At the very least, you have to know what they want and why.  Writing in first person is no excuse for not doing your character homework.

Now, hopefully I can remember that in my own work …

Sorting out Point of View in the Heat

Due to the heat, I took it easy on myself and set an easy task.  I looked at whether the point of view chapters of my book balanced out.  I have written a summary of the chapter/scene on post-it notes, a different colour for each, and have stuck them around the wall.  This is an idea I got from a blog post by an author called Kaye Dacus that flashed up on the WordPress suggested posts thing. 

It’s a very long line!  Quite satisfying.  I’m also a bit awestruck – did all that really come from my head?

Have also discovered a disadvantage to this technique.  Some of the post-it notes keep falling off the wall!  There had to be a drawback, didn’t there?