On finding the right voice

All writers have a style they prefer to write in. In particular I am talking about voice and point of view. Many times it is unconscious. For me it has been for a very long time. I almost always write in third person from the point of a view of a heterosexual female around 18-25 years old. That’s not me being homophobic or ageist (is that a word?) but it is simply the point of view I have seen the world from my whole life.

However, sometimes that isn’t the right voice for your narrator. Sometimes you need to be in their heads, see through their eyes and feel everything as they feel it. It can be difficult because you’re not used to but, but at the same time it can be a whole lot easier.

I only recently discovered this. I am a huge fan of the Ideas Tap website (if you’re a creative and you’re not on there then I suggest you go and sign up now). It is a fantastic site with resources, competitions and job listings for all the creative industries. In particular every three months they have the Editor’s Brief competition. You get one word to work from and can produce anything – photography, fiction, poetry, audio/video. The only rule is it must relate to the theme.

This time it was one of those wonderful moments where the idea came to me in a flash, fully formed and ready to go. So I went. Short story, third person, two females characters. Didn’t work. Fine, switch to stage play – two female characters, one room, simple set. Still didn’t work. But I loved my idea and I knew it would work.

Then last night I thought ‘if the idea is good and the characters are good, there must be something wrong with the form’. So I changed everything around. I wrote from the first person point of view for the first time in a very long time. And, lo and behold, it worked. It worked perfectly. I had her voice in my head. It was like my protagonist was telling me the story, like she was sat in the room with me and I was merely putting her words to paper. Which is how it’s supposed to be.

It just hadn’t occurred to me that sometimes the story demands something you wouldn’t normally do. I’m glad I had so much time to work on this piece otherwise I think it would have ended up at the bottom of my rubbish bin. I have learnt, in a long winded and pretty hard way, that your characters know what they want. You just have to listen to them.

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