A `proper` voice Sharley at 09:38 on 25 January 2013
I am taking a short self-editing course, with the aim of learning what to look for on the final edit of a book.
In one exercise, we had to write an excerpt in the voice of another character. I wrote in the voice of the antagonist, Matt, which everyone loved and it has been suggested I put chapters/scenes in from his POV.
However, this would change the book fundamentally and instead of a drip-drip of unease, the reader would know Matt is not all he seems from the moment we step into his head. Also, after significant events, he becomes psychopathic later in the book and I don't think I can carry off a convincing psychopath. But the crux is I want to see if I can keep the book true to what I want it to be (noting that if there was a promise of publication if changes were made, I would think differently!).
So, to get to the point!
I have an MC with a prim and proper voice compared to those around her and we are in her head (which we need to be, for reasons I am told work).
She is the daughter of an ex-RAF officer, who was a controlling man at that. She has lived in many places and had no one close except for her mother's best friend and her daughter, Sharon. She is estranged from the mother her dad put down so often. My MC feels comfortable with people from Sharon's social class but is not of their mindset as such, and this is noticed by others (such as this example when a friend-of-a-friend is jealous about her 'lot'. Emma remembers this when she wonders why Matt would want to be with her):
“I reckon he wouldn’t look twice if you weren’t pretty,” she’d said as she flicked the ash from her cigarette, “and you didn’t talk posh too.”
Everyone around her is voicey and while my MC has a voice, it is by comparison to her peers a prim one moulded by her childhood and experience.
I want to be in her head, first-person POV. No one has suggested I should change her voice before, but perhaps no one has told me her voice just isn't good enough to attract attention from an agent, etc.
Should I be worried? Is there anything I can do to examine a voice and, while keeping it true to its background, make it more voicey? Or is an antagonist's voice always going to be more exciting and therefore it would be expected that people would naturally go for that?
Re: A `proper` voice Jem at 09:44 on 25 January 2013
Sharley I love the sound of your novel. I think that I'd stay as you are - it's easy to get side tracked by people's comments. They hadn't read the book as a whole I'm guessing so could only comment on what you presented them with. If no one has said before that your MC's voice isn't strong enough then I'd just carry on.
Re: A `proper` voice Freebird at 09:52 on 25 January 2013
I agree with Jem, Sharley. For this particular wip, I think it's important that we don't know what's going on in Matt's head, because you want to slowly reveal him for what he is. But it sounds as though you're doing some really useful exercises in making your other characters earn their right to be there, i.e they have their own problems and triumphs, hopes and dreams - they shouldn't just be there as a foil to your mc.
Re: A `proper` voice EmmaD at 10:39 on 25 January 2013
Sharley, would there be any mileage in trying to open up a distinction between how your MC talks aloud, and how she is inside herself?
It's a parallel problem - though not the same problem - as our old friend the quiet-and-put-upon narrator, isn't it. It's very true to how some people are, and they're potentially good MCs because the story can be all about them realising things and growing in energy and agency. But along the way there is a lack of energy, because in some ways they're stifled: it can't come out.
I've got to go out, but would my post on what to do with quiet narrators help, in a lateral-thinking sort of way? How could you convey that energy and less-prim-and-proper-ness that's latent in her, at least when she's inside her head... Then we'd be waiting for what's inside to be allowed to get out. There's an instability there...
Re: A `proper` voice Sharley at 11:38 on 25 January 2013
Thank you for your comments.
Emma, your post is helpful, thank you. I have worked hard on the emotional arc and also making her more active and less whingey.
Although I show her pulling her socks up, getting out and stopping whining, etc. I think the one thing that was said has perturbed me - not in a bad way, but in a thinking way:
"The MC's voice is distinctive but quite formal." The question - is that right for her character? I suspect it is - alerted me to the fact that while it is right for her character, it also has drawbacks that I might need to work on.
I drew on the MC's dry wit (some would say sarcasm), but too much was the wrong tone for the book and people are only witty when they are happy.
But it's the formality of her 'voice' that now concerns me. I have her in action, surrounded by people she can interact with, seeing her and thinking with her, but she is bound - at first - by the voice of her upbringing. Of course, she isn't angry, manipulative or demanding at first - but in her own way she fights for her children's rights - but with a voice that is consistent with her formal upbringing.
I knew the excerpt I posted wasn't particularly voicey, but it has raised an interesting question. One that I consider further.
One other thing - just an aside - I can't believe how difficult it is to make an expression voicey when a character is crying out to say 'Oh God/OMG'. I hate those expressions and I can't bring myself to use them, no matter how much they suit a character!!!
Re: A `proper` voice chris2 at 12:27 on 25 January 2013
Is it worth thinking about whether her voice and world-view might change during the course of the book as a result of her experiences with Matt? And, if so, could this future change be somehow hinted at early on? This could give a different edge to how the reader views and reacts to the primness and properness. If you think readers will regard the primness as excessive, would they benefit from the subtle anticipation not of a come-uppance but of a correction to that excessiveness? I appreciate that, made without knowledge or your character, the suggestion may be totally inappropriate!
...without knowledge of your character...
Re: A `proper` voice Sharley at 12:50 on 25 January 2013
If you think readers will regard the primness as excessive, would they benefit from the subtle anticipation not of a come-uppance but of a correction to that excessiveness
Thanks Chris. I don't think she is excessive, just not voicey in sense that we get an immediate feel for her and she doesn't stand out enough.
She speaks better than her peers and doesn't have the edginess/feistiness that can be attractive in an MC.
But I think I am working out a solution.
I don't think I explained myself well here, by the use of the term 'speaking better'. She is more considered, yet less considered (in other ways), than her peers and while her voice is prim, it isn't the Mary Poppins primness by any means.
The reader might want to read on for the story, but I don't know if the MC's voice is enough to make this book stand out from a million others on a slushpile.
Re: A `proper` voice Astrea at 13:23 on 25 January 2013
I don't think I can carry off a convincing psychopath
Slightly worried now, as I've found my psychopath's extracts pretty easy to write - wondering what that says about me
How do you feel about the mc's voice? Are the comments about including Mr Psycho's voice chiming with you in an 'uh-oh, I wondered who was going to pick that up' sort of way, or is your instinct to keep things as they are?
If it's the latter, I would be tempted to go with it as it stands at the moment - it's your novel, and you'll feel more confident with it if you only make changes that fit in with your overall vision.
I had a comment from a (paid) critiquer who said that she was disappointed that it wasn't a very Scottish novel (I'd told her it was) and that really worried me for a while, until my husband pointed out that in the Scottishness stakes, I was the expert and she wasn't! So there will be no kilts and shortbread added to the final draft, thank you very much
She did however make other comments that did make sense, and I will be incorporating those changes.
Re: A `proper` voice a.m.edge at 14:15 on 25 January 2013
Just wondering whether you could carry off the 'unreliable narrator' thing, with Matt as your MC. Then it should gradually dawn on the reader that he is a bit of a psychopath.
The self-editing course sounds good though. Can you tell us where you found it?
Re: A `proper` voice Sharley at 17:39 on 25 January 2013
Just wondering whether you could carry off the 'unreliable narrator' thing, with Matt as your MC.
It might be great - but it's definitely one for another book. I'm too WiP-ed - or should that be wiped - out to even thing about restructuring this one!
Astrea, that is funny! It sounds as if your critiquer was thinking stereotypically of Scotland. I was watching the Antiques Roadshow from somewhere in the north of Scotland (lower Highlands) and I was surprised at how few people had an identifiably Scottish accent.