Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Voice and POV

Maven Carrie RyanOne of the things I've spent a lot of time thinking about recently is voice and POV. How do the two interact? Where does one end and the other begin?

Just over a year ago, I was working on a chick-lit YA called Dead Bodies and Debutantes. I was writing it first person POV (the protag's name was Jess) and I had her voice down. It was so easy to slide into Jess's world, to see things the way she did. She was acerbic, insightful, judgmental, and somewhat unhappy to be a deb. She was a ton of fun to write.

But then I started a new project for NaNo 2006 (long discarded) -- another YA chick lit written in first person POV. After about 10-15k words I realized that my new protag was sounding a lot like Jess. Too much like Jess. But I didn't know how to change that.

My answer was to start another book (The Forest of Hands and Teeth) with a character as far away from Jess as possible. I wrote in first person POV present tense, in a new world, with a somewhat detached narrator. My new character -- Mary -- was nothing like anything I'd ever written. And because she was so different, I was able to let go of Jess. Mary wasn't really meant to be permanent, she was more of a palette cleanser, a diversion and bit of fun.

Of course, now my problem is letting go of Mary. A few days ago I sat down to work on Book 2 and read JP what I'd written so far. "Great job," he said. "Although it sounds an awful lot like Mary." Naturally, the character I was writing was a boy and should have sounded NOTHING like Mary. Sigh.

My temporary solution is a new book, a new world, a shift from first person POV to third. Sloughing off all of the old in order to make room for the new. But I wonder if I'm the only person who has problems with this. Did I find my author voice in writing Forest of Hands and Teeth, or did I find Mary's voice? How do I pull myself apart from her? Is this just a particular problem with first person POV -- you climb so deep into one person's head that it's hard to see anything else?

I wish I had insightful answers to these questions, but I don't :) Just my musings as I turn from one project to the next and try to find a new mind to inhabit for a year. What do y'all think about the barrier between author voice and character voice?

14 comments:

lacey kaye said...

wow wow wow Great post, Carrie. POV vs. voice is definitely a deep dive into the nuances of writing and the infinite complexity of an author's mind.

Ok, that sounded weird, but basically, I totally get you.

I think voice and pov are two of my strongest suits but I don't really know how I do it. For me, a character's personal voice comes to my mind almost before they do. Which is a total lie because I had to completely rethink both of my heroine's voices, but whatever.

The tool I use the most is... Oh, wait. That might make a great blog post! I think I'll hold onto that thought like I did last week. Thanks for giving me something to write about :-)

Carrie said...

You're going to make me wait for the tool?! Gah!!

Mary said...

My fantasy has two POV's in close third, hero and heroine. My worry is that they will sound too similar. I haven't read it enough to know yet. Just finished first draft, so I'll be paying attention to voice as I read through. Along with everything else that will likely need fixing... *is not terribly looking forward to editing, but can't stop thinking about it*

Erica Ridley said...

Great topic, Carrie! Hmmm. I wish I had some answers. Some characters just pop off the page with their own unique voices--I would recognize a Kitha-thought from Maven Lacey's DTD or a Miranda-thought from Maven Darcy's BATB anywhere. I've even written a couple characters like that myself... the murderous bank teller from my one and only RomSus comes to mind. But I can't seem to do it on call. It's like, either the character is Pow! There! or not. Being both methodical and anal, I often pick one craft element at a time and study it and read up on it and analyze other books I think do it well (I did this with both sexual tension and dark tone) and that seems to help me... so maybe I need to start paying close attention to authors whose individual character voices really stand out, and try to figure out how they did it. Hmmm... much food for thought!

Diana Peterfreund said...

I think this issue comes more into play when you are writing in FPPOV, because then it's a question of authorial voice vs. character voice. How much is the author's particular turn of phrase, the author's jen ne se quoi that makes it THAT author's book, and how much is it affected for the purpose of character? Is the author choosing to write characters like that, or are all the characters simply the author? And would someone who loves that author's particular voice appreciate it if they change significantly when writing another character -- perhaps it's not so much that author's voice that they love, but that CHARACTER'S.

Carrie said...

Yep, Diana, you hit it right on the nose! That's what I'm trying to figure out right now. How much of FHT was Mary's voice and how much was mine (of course the answer is both). Then comes figuring out how to keep the author voice while creating another character.

Jacqueline Barbour said...

Great topic, Carrie!

I agree with Diana that voice and POV are most strongly linked together when the narration is first person. I have a first person project that I've picked up again, and part of what I love about it is the narrator's witty, even sometimes slightly snarky, yet wistful take on things. And while there are elements of me in that narrator, she's definitely herself!

I do worry that when I finish that story and go onto the next first person project, I'll have problems finding a new "voice" for the next character. So I feel your pain on that (and agree that completely cutting yourself off from the original character may be the best way to find that new voice).

In third person, I sometimes worry that there's not enough distinction between my voice when I'm in one character's POV versus another's. I think it's less VOICE that distinguishes the characters than thought processes and choice of language, if that makes sense. Tessa said something profound about this a few weeks back, when she said that her heroine and hero described the sounds the ship made during in a storm in very different ways, and even though both ways made sense, neither character would think of it the way the other did. That's as close as I can get to how I think of a character's "voice" in third person, I guess.

And yes, Erica, I would recognize an Amanda-thought ANYWHERE. God, she was scream.

You also, I think, gave me an idea for MY Friday post. So, nice job all around :).

Diana Peterfreund said...

Absolutely they would think of the ship in a different manner, but it's still filtered through the author's voice. As an example, look at a book I just finished, Flowers From the Storm. Occasionally, Kinsale makes a point of showing the difficulty Christian has with words. But obviously not everything in his POV is subject to that, and his understanding of images or society or finances or whatever ARE expressed in words. Plain action is expressed in the narrative.

First person is entirely dialogue, ENTIRELY internal monologue. there is no narrative at all.

Darcy Burke said...

Seriously awesome post, Carrie. It spawned my post for tomorrow as well, so great brain food! I have no answers either. I haven't tried first person and don't know that I will. How fabulous that your "diversion" was so wildly successful!

And color me thrilled that Miranda has such a distinctive voice!

lacey kaye said...

Diana, you are right, of course. (And Carrie.) That's why I have trouble putting setting description into my FP book. The character already knows it, so whethere she chooses to describe it or not is really tricky. I haven't read enough FPPOV books to know how other authors do it seamlessly. Like Erica, I guess I'd better get out a few study guides!

Carrie said...

Yeah, I ran into some problems with that Lacey. Readers of FHT were like "I want to know more about X or Y" and I'd be like "Well, Mary doesn't know X so I can't say" or "it wouldn't even occur to Mary to think Y so there..."

Sometimes, though, you have to give in. If readers are going to be irked by the lack of info, then you need to figure out a reason for your MC to think about them. At least, that's what I did.

Diana Peterfreund said...

Without resorting to someone looking in the mirror!

In the case of my series, the character is telling everything that happened to her to a third party, so she can be forgiven for the occasional tangent or explanation.

Carrie said...

Yeah, and I never physically describe any of my characters anyway so I don't have to find a way around the whole "looking at a mirror" bit.

Amanda Ashby said...

Great post! I always struggle with this myself, especially at the start of a book when I'm not sure what's happening, but once I really get to the heart of the character and figure out what it is they want (technically called the 'gotcha' moment) then my voice settles down a bit and the character can take over. Does that even make sense?

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