Dos And Don’ts For Writing Viewpoint Voice

From My Story Doctor:

Many readers and editors state that a strong voice immediately draws them into a story, and one of the most important voices will come from your viewpoint character. But even when you’ve developed their personality and voice, it can still be tricky to actually get them on the page. Here are nine dos and don’ts to help out.

Hi all, September C. Fawkes here, back to talk more about voice. Last month, I broke down how voice works at three levels: the author, the narrator, and the characters each have their own voices. Voice is essentially that person’s personality, as it shows up on the page. In my opinion, when broken down, voice is made up of two things:

What the Person Thinks or Talks About + How They Say It = Voice

And this equation works at any level.

Most of the time these days, the narrator will actually be the same as the viewpoint character. Whether they are written in first person or third person, the majority of stories are written from a character’s perspective.

Yet even when we know the voice equation, it can sometimes still be tricky to actually figure out how to get that voice on the page. So today I wanted to share some things that do work well, and some things that don’t.

Avoid These 4 Things When Crafting Viewpoint (or Narrative) Voice

1. “Always” Sentence Structures 

(Ex. always talks in long sentences or short sentences)

When looking at developing voice, it might seem like a good idea to play with sentence structure–heck, it is a good idea, to an extent. But if you are too rigid with it, there are problems. The most obvious is that trying to read a story where every sentence is about the same length is usually a terrible experience. Beyond that, sentence structure is also used to control pacing, tone, and emotional experience. If you get too locked into a specific type of sentence structure, you doom other parts of storytelling. Besides, most people don’t adhere to a specific structure, constantly, in real life either.

2. Dominating Emotions that Undercut the Story

If you are writing in a voice where the viewpoint character almost always sounds calm or relaxed–guess what? Chances are it’s going to minimize the tension you have in your story. Because if they are calm, the reader is probably calm. If they aren’t worried, the reader probably isn’t worried. The only way you can get away with this consistently, is if you are writing a story with very high stakes at every turn, so that the calmness is a counterpoint that adds humor or irony.

Likewise, a character who is consistently sad about whatever, might start to sound melodramatic–and when you get to the really sad part later in the story, it won’t be as powerful, because we’ve already spent so much time feeling sad. In short, frankly, some dominating emotions work better as a viewpoint character’s voice than others. Avoid those that are going to undercut the power of your story.

3. Stock Voices

Once in a while you run into a character voice that sounds like a hundred other character voices of that genre. For example, YA is known for protagonists having snarky voices. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but if you do have a viewpoint character whose voice sounds similar to many others, find a way to individualize it. Lots of people are snarky. But they are snarky in their own ways. How is your character snarky?

Link to the rest at My Story Doctor