Monday, July 05, 2010


What is voice? How do you know when you have it? How do you know when it works? And perhaps more importantly, how do you know when it doesn’t work?

As you know I write two quite different series as well as standalones. The voice between the three types of books is very different. At least I attempt to make it so. The Constable Molly Smith books are third-person multiple POV; all of the characters are contemporary Canadians, usually with middle-class backgrounds. Thus a lot like me.

The Klondike Gold Rush books are set in 1898. One first person narrator and two third-person POV characters. None of them are anything like me.

I finished* Among the Departed, the fifth Molly Smith book, last week and immediately turned from my keyboard and took up my long pen and dipped it in the ink well to begin Gold Mountain, the third Gold Rush book.

I wrote for two days and then went back to read over what I had put down. Didn’t like it much at all. Granted it was early days but the words seemed stilted and the flow just wasn’t right.

I had not found my voice. I was trying to write Fiona MacGillivray, dance hall owner, former second story woman with a cut-glass English accent as if she were Molly Smith, product of the University of Victoria, lover of heavy metal music, cop.

I took a break yesterday and today dove back in and fixed it up. At least I hope I did.

So, how did I find my voice?

By reading.

Simply by co-incidence I opened the copy of God of the Hive which Laurie R. King signed for me at Festival of Mystery in May. God of the Hive is set in the 1920s and is mostly in the first person of a woman who is not anything like me or like Molly Smith. Just reading King’s lovely prose, helped me get Fiona’s voice back, the slightly slower cadence of their speech, the ever-so-slightly more complicated sentences, the fractionally bigger words and less use of contractions in speech.

I read a lot, and I believe a writer has to read.

How else to experience worlds that are not your own?

*Finished doesn’t really mean finished. I have always set a book aside, following the advice of Stephen King, for six to eight weeks. Then I can go over it one more time with a reasonably fresh eye.


hannah Dennison said...

Your post couldn't be more timely! I am trying so hard to write a brand new series with a new protagonist and it is so difficult to write in a new "voice." I hadn't thought about reading ... so that's what I'm going to do. Right this minute!

Vicki Delany said...

Go for it, Hannah. And good luck with the new series.

peter_may said...

"Voice" is a peculiar phenomenon, but it's not something I have ever had a problem with. I often find myself in the role of shorthand-typist, taking down dictation from my characters. Generally, they speak to me, rather than me speaking for them. They all seem so real to me I never get confused. The only problem I ever had was when I wrote in first person for the first time. It was quite a moment. And I was quite scared of it. But, somehow, as soon as I started to write the character was speaking through me. Maybe these people really do exist in some netherworld, and we are just conduits through which they flow into ours. Who knows? It's all such a mysterious process I am afraid to question it too much in case I lose it.