When we think about our favorite novels, the stories that stand out in our memories, voice plays a key role. Much like masterful use of detail, setting, and point of view, voice helps pull readers into your story and put them inside your narrator’s head.
Voice can be hard to define, but it determines how the words feel on the page. Tone, language, and style combine to form a unique voice, one that reveals the narrator’s age, personality, and much more.
In fiction, you create a new voice every time you create a new main character. On the page, your point-of-view (POV) character may read nothing like you. This requires you to get to know these characters on a deeper level — to get out of your head and into theirs. Without an authentic voice, readers will struggle to connect to your character.
Wondering how to find your main character’s voice? Try these exercises to challenge yourself and explore new ways to think about your writing.
Read novels written from multiple POVs.
When you write from multiple POVs, each character needs to feel different on the page. Many books label sections with character names to let the reader know who’s talking, but those titles should feel almost unnecessary.
As you read, think about how the author differentiates between characters. Do they do it successfully, or do you find yourself paging back to remind yourself whose point of view you’re in? Look at language, sentence structure, and tone. What makes one character’s voice noticeably different from another’s? The more you read, the more you’ll prime your brain to think about these differences.
Write the same scene from multiple POVs.
Even if you aren’t using multiple POVs in your story, pick a scene to write from a variety of angles. How would each character in the scene speak about what’s happening?
Remember also that voice and point of view are related, but not synonymous. Point of view focuses on what the character knows, sees, thinks, or notices. Voice is more abstract: it’s how the narrator speaks, the tone and style with which you write a character onto the page.
Write a journal entry from another character’s perspective.
If you find yourself stuck on a scene or a turning point in your story, try writing something that will never make it into the finished product. Explore a character’s voice by writing a diary entry about the scene. Our journals are the place where our voice comes through completely unfiltered. Give your characters this opportunity and you may be surprised at what you learn about their personalities.
Write from the POV of an unlikable character, or someone very different from yourself.
In some ways, all our characters are pieces of us. They give us a place to play make-believe, to inhabit alternate selves and explore hidden identities. However, it’s easy for all those characters to start sounding the same on the page. To give yourself a real challenge, write from the perspective of a character who’s not like you at all. Create a main character who’s not even particularly likable. Let a new voice shine through and watch how the words on the page change.
Of course, the most important thing you can do is keep writing. When you first start drafting a new story, your characters may feel like strangers. As you write and rewrite their stories, their voices will begin to shine through.