“I’m looking for great voice!” That’s what every editor and agent in the business keeps saying over and over. Yet, at the same time they have trouble describing voice. “I can’t describe it,” they say. “But, I’ll know it when I read it.”
But what is it? And how do we writers find our voice?
This is a complex topic. But I’ve discovered that one great way to discover the power of voice (and what it is for that matter) is to experiment with point-of-view. Choosing a point of view for your story will greatly influence the narrative voice of your novel. It’s a lot more than pronouns. It’s about perspective, and “who” is telling the story. The story of one event will be told differently depending upon the POV. Choosing to tell a story from inside a protagonist’s head (first person) or from an omniscient narrator is going to create vastly different voices.
Don’t believe me? Try the following exercise and see what happens.
Point of View Exercise:
Step One: Find two paragraphs of your present work-in-progress that includes an event with multiple characters and no dialog. (Or write two new paragraphs).
Step Two: Identify the POV you wrote those paragraphs in (i.e. first person, third person limited, omniscient etc.) and skip the step below that is the POV you originally used.
Step Three: Rewrite your paragraphs from the POV of your protagonist using first person.
Step Four: Rewrite your paragraphs from the POV of another character interacting in the scene using third person limited.
Step Five: Rewrite your paragraphs using dramatic POV.
Step Six: Rewrite your paragraphs using omniscient POV.
Step Seven: Rewrite your paragraphs from the POV of a character outside the action, who watches but doesn’t interact. Use the third person limited.
Step Eight: Now compare your paragraphs. What changed in each POV? How did the voice change? How did the diction and word choices change? How did the distance from the scene change? How does the narrator or character’s attitude change the voice?
Now tell us how it went!!!
Also, check out these other great links on voice and point of view:
- Editor Jennifer Reese talks about Voice
- The Point of Point of View
- What is Dramatic Point of View?
- Five Reasons to use First Person POV
- Six Limitations of First Person Point of View
- Five Advantages of the Omniscient POV
- Limitations of Writing in the Omniscient POV