Finding Voice

First find the tiny seed of a four leaf clover. Since you can’t tell the difference between three and four leaf clover seeds plant them all and wait. As they grow and display leaves count them. If you didn’t get a rare four leaf in this batch start over.

At least that’s what it feels like when someone says your story is missing voice. What does that mean? Voice seems to be something you ‘find’ like a four leaf clover. Looking online gets you a cornucopia of odd posts and thoughts about the elusive voice. So I took my search to the library and found some helpful thoughts.

I checked out one of The Great Courses: Writing Great Fiction. You can also purchase this course, 24 hours of nearly everything you could want to know about fiction with a handy book to go with it. Oddly, I was looking for help with point of view, not voice, when I stumbled upon it in the video.

It seems that point of view, voice, and narration are inherently tied together and can make or break your story.

Point of view is specifically talking about who is narrating your story. Is it your main character, a secondary character, or a overall godlike approach? How closely do we get to the narrator and their inmost thoughts? Can we trust the narrator and what they see and feel? All these things are important to point of view.

Choosing the right point of view can change how the story is told. For example, we wouldn’t want to hear the story of The Hobbit from any other point of view than Bilbo Baggins, not a dwarf or Gandalf or Golem. The story wouldn’t be as good! Just like we couldn’t ever grasp the magnitude in Lord of the Rings if it were told any other way than the godlike Omniscient point of view Tolstoy uses for his epic trilogy.

So when you are getting feedback that agents or editors are having problems with the point of view or if the voice isn’t pulling them in, consider these things in your story:

  • Who is telling your story? Main character, secondary character or multiple.
  • Is it the right person telling the story? Maybe rework a scene using a different narrator and see what you like better.
  • Would the story be richer or more dynamic if someone else in your story was telling it? Ex: Thrillers are often in an omniscient point of view to keep the action in the present.
  • Do you need a less important character to tell the story to give distance to your main characters? Ex: Ishmael in Moby Dick, because Ahab is so slippery we don’t want to be to close to him, or the whale for that matter.
  • Are you staying within your point of view? Either 1st or 3rd person. There is room for movement within the two but not between the them.
  • Who is your narrator speaking to? This may seem odd but the answer is not always the reader. Some stories will work better if it’s written toward someone else. Ex: Convict writing down life and murders knowing police will read it. The audience is the police then and it will change the way it’s written.
  • Are you being true to your narrator’s voice? For me this sticks because I can fix my character’s voice but I don’t know how to fix my own. I’m just me but my characters can be anything I make them to be. So look at your narrator, how they talk, think, and feel. What motivates them? Make sure those things are reflected in how your write out the story. Ex: If your narrator is the main character and they work in construction they will always be looking and evaluating houses they see, add in that little clover of voice.

I hope these thoughts lend you some insight into what agents and editors are thinking when they read the first five or ten pages of your manuscript. The point of view, narrator and voice are all interlinked and it makes it that much harder to find it. But the four leaf clovers do exist and you can find the seed, plant it, and watch it grow into a beautifully written book.



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