Narrative Voice

Voice is paramount in literary fiction.  Publishing houses and agents are always yapping about finding original voices and whatnot.  I couldn’t agree more.  Your narrative voice channels your story, leads your readers to know your characters, and takes the dryness out of your writing.  A good narrative voice thrives on creativity.

It took me years to be able to separate myself from my characters’ voices (not that you have to, Kerouac, H.S. Thomson et al.)  Even now with full knowledge of what’s being written, my characters’ voices are unmistakably relative to my own.  Only through years of crappy writing did I get comfortable with the simple idea that my characters are my children, not me, but they have been endowed with some of my traits, naturally.  Even with all the effort to separate yourself from your narrative, people who know you and read your work will inevitably hear your voice for a bit if not all of the time, not a big deal really.  I got over it.

I can’t write anything in my character’s voice until November 1st, that would be cheating under my perception of the rules.  So I’m developing it completely in my head.

Considerations for Baldur’s voice:

  • First person omniscient – I might have to justify this voice later, but I know that this form gives me the most power over knowledge of other characters, I won’t have to explain why Baldur knows the intimate thoughts of other characters until the end.  After all, it is fiction so you can do whatever the hell you want.
  • Past tense mainly – I will have a few excerpts in present tense, but these will be limited emotionally charged anecdote.
  • Baldur will not, in diction, speak taboo words, but this won’t apply to his narrative, e.g. he’ll explain why certain words are taboo
  • I want Baldur to be sensitive and nice but with a contradictory edge that will make the reader question him, he does have a history of being insensitive
  • Lots of idioms and word explanations, this will be tricky –has to be done right to not be boring
  • Never self-loathing, revels in his optimal circumstances even when things get bad he takes full responsibility of his choices (this gets into philosophy which I’ll discuss another day)
  •  He has two main abstract desires.  To be understood, and for everyone to understand each other.  The latter is impossible, but he, through his drunken misconceptions of reality, thinks that he can offer the world a solution for peace.  A way back to mortal Eden or Paradise(more on this later, this is the Gordian knot of Baldur’s psychology and deserves its own blog post.)
  • I need Baldur to slowly expose his megalomania, at some point he should compare himself as a cross between Alexander the Great and Jesus Christ

Tomorrow I will make a Ten Rules for Writing list compiled from other authors’ lists.


One thought on “Narrative Voice

  1. I wrote The WifeCycle in present tense mostly because it felt more visceral. But when it came time to write The Journey of Why, I used the more tradtional past tense, because I feel like I am retelling the story in that one, Myranda is sort of looking back and telling you all what happened, even though in the books it doesn’t seem like it. Since the WifeCycle was evolving over current, real-world time, I felt that the present tense suited it. No one really commented either way on that but to me it was a huge deal. So it goes to show that if the story is good enough, no one will see the vehicle through which you give it to them heh.
    Also, in terms of voice. I wrote a short story that had loads of slang and made up words and someone complained about it. Personally, I just thought they didn’t ‘get’ what I was doing. Here’s an excerpt from Alfie Screws it Up:

    “The whole compound i.e. la university, is greeezy with phlegm due to some unknown bug and the majorita a la faculta is out of comm-comm. This means that a good and rough fiddy procent a da day is hangin out on the wing-backed chair wit your feet up on da desks. The FedMeds came and quar-an-teeened us due to no pillzeez for theez bugzeez all cuz some dreg down in the pitz is all homocidal, oops I mean homIcidal, due to the withdrawal symptoms of da addiction.”

    The security lock begins turning with a low hum, the laser diode in the center goes dim and the door slides open with a quiet ‘shhhkk.’

    “Ha… such a bleak naffsys for them to call maxsec. Those dreg flatlines don’t know a nova from their arse.”

    Alfie, the main character, is a rebel, a hip young dude who is borderline criminal and speaks with the dominant street slang of the world. When you juxtapose it against some other characters it is really striking:

    …The FedMeds came and quar-an-teeened us due to no pillzeez for theez bugzeez all cuz some dreg down in the pitz is all homocidal, oops I mean homIcidal, due to the withdrawal symptoms of da addiction.”

    “That is quite enough Mr. Ottoman,” says the Headmaster, pulling the plug on the PA and waggling the end of it at the young student. “No more inciting civil unrest for you, I do remember the last time you know. We Badgers do not forget as much as you think.” Headmaster Badger wiggles his whiskers knowingly and shoos Alfred out the door. “Get to your class young man.”

    I don’t profess to know if it’s right or wrong, I know it’s how I wrote it and how I wanted it to be and everyone be hanged if they can’t comprehend it 😉

    Finally, in The Journey of Why, because of the basic-ness of some of their language, I included a glossary at the end to explain things like the Upward Spiral, Locomotor, Lighter (a flashlight basically), and of course the awesome Depopulator. I felt that this would help the reader and they could look at the entries when they came upon them if they so chose. However, many of the items are self-explanatory and so the glossary also could be discovered at the end of the first reading as an almost supplement that piques the interest in the next book in the series 🙂

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