8.13.2011

Giving Voice

Creating wholly believable characters is often the most difficult and exciting challenge for an author, in part due to the fact that in finding ways to explore and express the depths and dimensions of their characters, authors can be faced with some depths and dimensions of themselves that aren't always easy or comfortable. Exploring our own motivations, values, and emotions seems to me a necessary step on the path towards infusing our storytelling and characters with a deeply compelling voice that will ring true to a reader.

Editors talk frequently about the necessity of an author staying true to their own voice in expressing the voice of their main character; a definition of "voice" in this instance encompasses the word choice, sentence structure, cadence, vernacular, slang, idioms, quirks, and the poetry of speech that help to identify a character within a setting. To my mind "voice" also encompasses that which lies beneath the actual words a character expresses—namely, the emotions, motivations, doubts, desires, fears, hopes, and internal trajectory of the character. These are the elements of a "character" that will turn an "anyone" into a "someone"—a distinct individual with whom readers might identify and in whom readers will believe. "Voice," then, is not only a character's expression through speech and thought, but a characters' expression through actions, choices, and decisions. If we can be completely clear as to who our character is—how that character will behave in any situation, what that character believes in, what side that character will take in an emotional or physical challenge, and how that character will or will not evolve through each experience— then the voice of that character will resonate clearly and give humanity to that character, for all the good and the bad, the strengths and weaknesses, the triumphs and the doubts that infuse every one of us.

We are often encouraged, as we encourage others, to give voice, which means not only to actually say something when saying something seems called for, but it means participating in a larger dialogue, be it emotional, political, or societal in such a way that we are heard, we express, we take a stand. We don't necessarily achieve this with words; we do this with actions and decisions informed by what we feel to be right. And we can only express—and be true to—our voice if we are willing to meet ourselves truly. Our candid exploration of the "why?"s and "why not?"s behind our own decisions, choices and paths taken most assuredly will inform and nourish the "why?"s and "why not?"s of the characters we create. It can be a challenging road inside ourselves to find our own voices, but what can result is the creation of true characters about whom a reader will think, "Of course she'd say that!" or "Of course he'd feel that way." Whether it’s through speech, emotion, or action, it's all voice.  And by honoring our own voices, by taking deep breaths of our own selves, we will find the means to give voice to--and breathe life into--our stories, our characters.

© emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC

10 comments:

  1. What a great post, and something I need to remember. I've come pretty close to editing voice right out of my manuscript, and I need to be careful not to do that.

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  2. Illustrators need to show their own voice as well. I'm on a new adventure to go back to the painter I was at 11 (I painted in oils then) - to recapture that voice using the techniques I have learned since. When I shared several paintings from that time with a master who was teaching me, he said "see, that's what I'm talking about." For the next few hours I found myself embracing that 11 hear old girl that I was. I realized she needed embracing.

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  3. So important! Thank you for this clear explanation and reminder!

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  4. I love this challenge to look inward and progress outward to our own developing voice, verbally or otherwise, and that this can, and often should, impact the individual voice of each of our characters. The more I write the more I am discovering that the process has both external and internal dynamics, thus with each new character/story if I am willing, I can evolve alongside them (or maybe through them?). This willingness to be real with our own motives and feelings is a pretty vulnerable place to be; I hope to continue to embrace this place, as just as I trust always to have another story to tell, I hope personal evolution will persist.

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  5. Lovely, Emma. I love this challenge to take a deep breath of our own selves, our own truths.

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  6. So pleased to see a new photo of you accompanying this post - a visual reminder as well as written that our voices change as we do...

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  7. Difficult and exciting, absolutely, and what a wonderful combination to keep an author working to do their best. (Gwen Olsen)

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  8. Thanks for this explanation of voice and taking it to a deeper level. It's difficult to discover our voice and once we do, it's an ongoing process working at mastering it. Seems like voice is conveying all the complicated aspects of our characters to make them seem as real and complex as real people are. It's not easy to do.

    By the way, I heard your keynote speech at SCBWI's Summer Conference was awesome. WTG, Emma!

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  9. Thank you, Emma for writing this post. Your post caused me to think. It seems the foundation for finding and maintaining a voice is having an open heart, a willingness to be undefended even when vulnerable. The ability to evolve and remain open will assist me as I create my characters, it feels like a partnership between myself and the characters I create. How I choose to "show up" reflects the authenticity of my characters and mirrors my own ability to be authentic. This is a commitment I am willing to make. A journey worth taking.

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