Today, I want to touch the subject of voice. Not long ago, I finished Dean Koontz’s What the Night Knows. While reading it, I couldn’t help but notice the unique voice that each character, done in third-person limited POV, had. The use of words and just the general style of the sentences identified each character so that I could pretty accurately identify a character without seeing his or her name.
Normally when you hear ‘voice’, you think of the author’s identifiable writing style that made it possible for people to divine that Richard Bachman was in fact Stephen King. (If you find the possibility of identification through voice interesting, check out the experiment at Literary Lab here, and the conclusions here.)
But each character in a story has their own voice (or should have their own voice) and when you’re writing first person or third person limited, that voice has to come through the text.
How do you construct a unique voice? Look at these excerpts from What the Night Knows:
1) The previous night, his nerves had been fried because of the freaking dream in which the big hands had tried to tear off his face and gouge out his eyes, those fingertips as big as soup spoons. He was a little disappointed in himself that he’d been rattled by a moronic dream.
2) For a moment, this curious uneasiness threatened to disorient him – until he understood the cause of it. Together, the family was five targets clustered, therefore vulnerable to quick annihilation. Although he had no incontestable proof that any enemy waged war against him, he was thinking like a man embattled.
Do you see the difference? Though there are no names in the passages, the two voices clearly defines them. Can you guess which is the father and which is the son?
Vocabulary can often suggest a voice – a professor is apt to use bigger words than, say, a kid in high school. Another is the way in which they compare things (e.g. soup spoons and a war). The way in which their train of thought moves.
It is important to find your voice, but don’t forget to find your characters’ voices too.