Developing our writing voice for a story or a character can be incredibly difficult; it can also be quite rewarding when we get it right. The key for me is stepping out of “myself” and forcing myself into the psyche of my character. I want to feel her emotions, I want to consider the world as she would, not as I would.
And so part of writing with an effective voice comes simply from knowing my characters as thoroughly as possible — and this could be a post on it’s own. Very briefly, I spend a good deal of time developing backstory for my characters, sometimes simply in bullet form — facts relevant to who and what they are, what they look like, what they do for a living, what religion they follow, etc. — and sometimes in more detail, using short fiction to bring depth and richness to their pasts.
Part of writing also is an act of empathy — and again, I can write more on this in future posts. Basically, I would argue that the same traits that make me a good husband, a good father, a good friend, also make me a good writer. I listen well, I am good at seeing the world and experiencing emotions as others would. This helps me understand what the people I love are going through at any particular moment. And it helps me understand how my characters ought to react to the stuff I put them through in the pages of my books.
There are writing exercises that can help in this regard, and I’d like to tell you about one of these today. This exercise actually has two parts to it, both of them designed to force you out of yourself and into the thoughts, emotions and perceptions of your character.
PART I: Write a scene in which a character of your own choosing (a new character, a character from your current work in progress, a character from an older work who you haven’t thought about in some time) meets the real you. Yes, that’s right: I want you to write about yourself. But I want you to do it in first person (I, me, my), from the point of view of a fictional character. Have that person observe you, interact with you, maybe even not like you (!) in a setting of your choice. The key though is to be thoroughly in that other character’s first person point of view, NOT in your own point of view. Your character should be experiencing you. The scene doesn’t have to be long — a few pages should do — but it should force you to start telling a story.
PART II: Once your have finished writing that scene from your character’s point of view, you should then write a second scene, a follow-up to that first one perhaps, in which you now write from your own point of view, but in third person (s/he, her/him, hers/his). The point of this is to observe this character you have created and begin to see her or him the way your other characters will, and perhaps as your reader will as well. Again, the scene doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t have to be something you sell elsewhere. This is for you, to help you develop you character and refine your voice. Of course, if it does turn into something you can sell, all the better.
Best of luck with the exercise. And, as always, keep writing!!