The personality of the narrator might reflect the personality of the writer, but they don’t have to coincide. Different books from the same author will typically have different voices. It’s the personality of the character telling the story (if you are using a first person point of view) or the narrator’s if you are using a 3rd person POV.
So how do you get a certain voice?
It’s all about the style.
You need to know the rules to break them properly, and then do so consistently. A certain narrator speaks in a certain way. The first page can be jarring, but once you get into “the voice” you’re transported into the paper world and the magic is done.
Here are two examples of particularly jarring voices that became best sellers:
- A clockwork orage (A. Burgess)
“What’s it going to be then, eh?” There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry…
- The catcher in the rye (J. D. Salinger)
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
So, how do you find your voice?
1-Keep writing. Your voice will work its way to your pages, but it will take time.
2-Use literary devices. For example in “I’ll give you the sun” by Jandy Nelson, there are two narrative voices, Noah and Jude, and they are very different. Noah reacts to things happening to him by painting scenes in his head and giving them funny titles, Jude speaks to her Grandma’s ghost and is plagued by superstitions.
If you are writing fantasy or dystopian make up words and items that describe your world. If you are writing contemporary use words typical of the place and time your story takes place in.
3-Diversify characters voices. One character might swear a lot, one might use slang, one might make grammar mistakes, one might use rich vocabulary, one might talk a lot, one might talk very little. If all characters have similar voices it becomes hard to distinguish them.
Great characterization example: The Lunar chronicles: Did you notice how Cinder is curt and pragmatic? Miko is peppy and has a great sense of humor? Cress always pretends to be some character from a movie or a book?
Just don’t forget to learn the rules before you break them, otherwise your book will look like a jumbled mess.
Stranded at dusk in the middle of the Adamello-Brenta Park, I resolved to hitchhike. Since regular traffic wasn’t even allowed, I thought it a miracle a car drove by, but Nata didn’t like my plan. As the car pulled over she yelled after me, “Lee, wait!”
But I had already reached the old Lancia car where someone was operating the manual lever to open the window, squeaking all the way down like a drawbridge.
I waved, smiling. “Excuse me? Ah, hi.” I eyed the ultra-centenarian lady that was beaming at me a toothless smile from the old jalopy.
She answered, “Are you lost, putela? You’re not from here.” Likely her conclusion had been due to my accent.
Even I knew that putela meant girl in noneso, the local dialect. Nata had reached us and was standing just behind me. I could feel her disapproval on my back, even if our rescuer looked harmless, if maybe just a little unsettling.
I answered, “Ah, no, I’m a foreigner, but my friend Nata, here—”
Nata hissed, “Don’t tell her my name!”
The old lady laughed out loud. She did look a little unhinged, and way too old to be driving a car.
I continued, a bit less certain, “My friend is from Afes. Anyway, we missed the shuttle and—”
The lady opened the door. “Come on board, before the ghost of Princess Tresenga gets you!”
“Who?” I shoved Nata into the back seat. She was pointing her feet like a recalcitrant horse, but the little elf really didn’t weigh much. I locked her in throwing down the seat and taking my spot in the front.
The old lady put the car into first gear and said, “Princess Tresenga. Don’t you know that the lake used to turn red with her blood?”
“It’s algae,” Nata stated, scooting against the window on my side of the car.
“Yeah, right!” The old lady laughed, her cackle rattling my bones as she took off, way too fast. “The legend says that the Princess of the lake, Tresenga, refused to marry not to give her reign to a foreign man, but the Prince of Tuenno wouldn’t hear it and slaughtered her and all of her subjects.”
“WATCH OUT!” I yelled, as she approached a curve at ludicrous speed.
The lady made a sudden left turn, wheels skidding. “Don’t worry, putela, I know this road like the back of my hand.”
I tried to pull the seatbelt, which was unheard of in Italy since nobody ever used it, and the lady commented, “Oh, that won’t help you, putela, it never worked. Anyway,” she continued, “since then, once a year, the lake turns red on the date of the slaughter, just about now.”
She turned her head to fix her clouded gaze on me. She had the worst case of cataract I had ever seen.
I yelled, “EYES ON THE ROAD, EYES ON THE ROAD!”
She huffed. “If it makes you feel better, but I’m blind as a bat.”
With my heart in my throat and my hands clutched tight on the door and the grab-handle on the roof I managed to say, “Ah, what a…pretty legend, maybe slow down a little?”
“It’s not a legend, putela.”
Nata couldn’t take it anymore. “Yeah, right, and how come that pollution prevents the blood from coming back?”
The old lady huffed. “It’s not pollution. Tresenga’s tired. Her trick attracted tourists rather than scare them away.”
I smirked, thinking about the very much misunderstood Canterville’s ghost. Then thought, how the heck does she know what a ghost thinks? I threw a furtive glance to Nata in the side mirror and said, “Ah, well, Princess Tresenga was awesome for holding her own against men.”
The lady broke into a big smirk, nailed on the brakes and I almost went through the windshield.
“Here you are, putele, take care,” she said, through her toothless smile, spit settling on my lap.
I opened the door as fast as I could and scampered out, followed by Nata, who asked, “By the way, how can you drive through the park?”
It was the lady’s turn to scoff. “This is my lake. Off you go now!” she tore off at the asphalt and disappeared leaving a trail of black exhaust and loud laughter. A crow left the top of a tree, cawing.
I uttered, “Never. Hitchike. Again.”
“I told you!” Nata pushed me, bursting out laughing. The little elf was beautiful when she laughed, and I wished the Rickster could see her since it did not happen very often.
What did I do?
Leda (narrator, first person point of view) is the leader, she’s the one who makes decisions and pushes Nata around. How Leda makes a literary reference? She must be a bookworm. She uses words like ultra-centenarian and unhinged. She knows what cataract is. She is a feminist of sort since she admires the ghost for “holding her own against men”.
Nata is reserved, “recalcitrant”, rational, even though annoyed she tags along. We learn she does not smile often, but that she’s beautiful when she does.
The old lady is overly confident, afraid of nothing. She has a great sense of humor. Maybe she is a little crazy. Is she the ghost of Princess Tresenga? Leda might believe so, but Nata doesn’t. Did you notice how the Old Lady uses dialect?
Notice how I did not tell you, in the paragraph, any of these things; I showed you. The voice is the greatest device to pull together your “show don’t tell”.
Now, go get your own voice ^_^
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Who am I to give you advice?
I am part Marilyn Monroe and part Mutant Ninja Turtle, your writer imaginary friend, and the author of the Italian Saga (#TIS): an irreverent series taking place in Italy and speaking of love, sadness, sex, and happiness with a healthy dose of humor <3 You can check out the books pretty much anywhere including Amazon and Smashwords ^_^