Welcome to another Top Five Deep Dive episode!
(who doesn't love a top five list?!?!)
Today, we delve deep into the captivating world of writing voice. Key takeaways will help you refine your writing voice and elevate your storytelling to new heights. Whether you're just starting your writing journey or are a seasoned author, there's something here for everyone.
Remember to subscribe and leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform to stay updated with our latest episodes. Be sure to connect with us on social!
AND don't miss our special guest Lucy, the pug!
Mentioned in the podcast: check out this character profile worksheet from editor and story consultant Lara Willard!
Support the show
Bookshop.org site for books mentioned in the episodes!
Support Writers With Wrinkles - become a subscriber
Support the show: make a one time donation!
Writers with Wrinkles Link Tree for more!
Hello everybody, welcome to episode 49, a top five deep dive into writing voice. This episode drops on Indigenous Peoples Day, so hopefully you have some extra free time today and can do something to recognize this holiday. We are super excited about this episode because voice is one of those things that feels ephemeral and gauzy and beyond your reach and stressful, and some of that is true. But we can tip the odds in our favor and that's what we're doing today. We're giving you some things to think about, to consider, to work on, as you are getting your arms around the voice of your characters. So writing voice. In fiction, it's an essential element that helps you establish your narrative's unique tone, perspective and personality. So the tips we're going to give you are going to lead you to develop a solid and engaging voice in your fiction writing. As I was saying to Lisa before, voice is something that, when it's done well, you know. But when you ask somebody who has done it well to explain how they did it, they're often at a loss for words because it is a very difficult thing to define exactly. So these tips are going to help you get better at writing voice.Lisa Schmid:
It's elusive. You know what it is? It's a snipe hunt. Do you know what a snipe hunt is?Beth McMullen:
No, but I want you to tell me now.Lisa Schmid:
I can't believe. You don't know what a snipe hunt is. So a snipe hunt is where you know we used to do it all the time, like when we go camping with the kids. You tell them there's a snipe, it's this bird, it's an elusive bird, and so everyone goes out, like all the kids are looking for the snipe, and then you have a parent go out and make weird bird noises and so all the kids are chasing the snipe that doesn't exist. I love that. It's just. I don't know why it just suddenly popped in my head. Because it's just Well that's a really good.Beth McMullen:
That's a really good way to look at it, because it does feel very like it just slips through your fingers, Like it gets your arms around it. Oh my gosh, how did I not know that that was a game? I want to be the person making the bird noises.Lisa Schmid:
It was. It's so fun, it is so fun. And eventually they figured out as they grew up that there was no snipe, but it just. I remember when I first started going to conferences and they would talk about voice and I just was like I don't understand, like what is voice? And nobody could explain it or identify it. So it's something you just you kind of have to find your way and I hopefully these tips today will help people find their way. Yes, absolutely.Beth McMullen:
We all need a little direction. I'll help once in a while.Lisa Schmid:
Even if it is a snipe. But all right, I'm going to kick it off. So I can't believe you never did it. It's so fun.Beth McMullen:
I know, I feel like I I feel like I missed something. I didn't take that parent in class.Lisa Schmid:
Well, our friend Mike used to do it and be this weird little, the psycho bird in the woods. It was, and I would just, and I think the more wine he drank, the more crazy the bird sounds.Beth McMullen:
The more insane his bird became. Where their kids are like, okay, there's something wrong with this bird and you just see these kids like running, like in different directions and well, that's like 90% of parenting, right? Like how can you get your kids to be tired enough to go to sleep at night? Oh my God.Lisa Schmid:
Well, it amused me, okay. So first of all, know your characters, understand your characters deeply, including their backgrounds, beliefs, motivations and quirks. Your character's voice should reflect their individual personalities. One of the things that I've done to help create certain characters is to create a character profile and we are going to put a link in the notes. Some people go really deep as like what's their favorite foods, what's their likes, what's their dislikes, like a little Bible of that character. Especially if you're new to writing, it really helps you define who that character is and refer back to it.Beth McMullen:
I did a. I think this was actually a screenwriting class I did at some point in the past, and one of the things that was suggested when you're trying to get to know your character, is to create a daily schedule for them as in they wake up, they do this, then they go, do this, and just like map out their whole day so that you have a sense of how they're moving through time, and it somehow makes them feel more complete than if you're just thinking about them in terms of when they're showing up in your scene. I like that. I still. I use that now and almost all of my characters I'll map out a day in the life. You can also do diary entries. I think that's really useful too, to try to get into their way of thinking and expressing themselves.Lisa Schmid:
I want someone to map out a day in the life for me, oh my, gosh, I was gone.Beth McMullen:
I had to go to Washington DC literally for 24 hours and when I came back it was actually yesterday and I thought I screwed up the whole week. I didn't know what day it was. My to-do list was five times as long as when I left, because it just kept pushing stuff forward that I hadn't done. I almost had to melt down because I was like I can't like, how do I get done? It's crazy. Anyway, yes, so a day in the life I could use that too. The next tip choose a narrative perspective. This is super important. This is whether you're writing first person, third person, limited, third person, omniscient, etc. Etc. You have to pick the one that you are comfortable writing in, that you feel best suits your story and your characters, because this choice is going to heavily influence the voice that you're presenting, because writing in first person, which is what I do, I am in that character. I'm in their headspace, I am speaking as if I am them and that helps me get to know them on a very sort of DNA level. I feel very intertwined with these characters by the time I'm done, because I've been speaking as if I'm them, third person, even third person limited, which is more involved than the omniscient third person. You are still in the character, but you're not quite as in the character You're able to give a little outside perspective. That's going to change the way the voice of your character is presented. So think about how your narrative perspective is going to best serve your story and then think about the space that you're most comfortable in writing. I also know people who start out writing third person and then they feel like they're not quite engaged enough with the characters and they'll go back and change the whole thing to first. So You're not locked in. But it is way easier if you start out with a decision. That you stick to. It just will save you a lot of brain damage later.Lisa Schmid:
Yeah that's a good one. Establish tone and mood. Determine the overall tone and mood of your story. Is it lighthearted or serious, dark or comedic? Your voice should align with the intended tone and that's something I always establish ahead of time. I'm a very specific writer and then I like writing lighthearted humor, so it's easy for me to get into that character. I always take little bits and pieces of me and put them into the main character and to me that always helps the character be more authentic, because I just I feel like I'm inserting bits of me, not everything, because then that would be a little crazy. It's so funny. I was talking to my agent yesterday and she's like you really get the kid's voice and I'm like I'm probably stuck as a 12 year old boy. I don't know where that comes from. I tried to write a girl character and I couldn't. I just couldn't do it. Isn't that strange?Beth McMullen:
I know, I think actually people who are successful very few authors are successful on opposite ends of the spectrum, as in if you're writing lighthearted first person, funny, quirky characters and it would be really surprising to see you suddenly then write a third person, omniscient, dark, humorless type of, you know, thriller or something like that. Part of the process is is doing a lot of writing, so you figure out which perspective you're most comfortable with and then you're tending to work in that space and get better and better and better in that space. I mean I cannot write third person as much as I'd like to and as much as I try. It just sounds weird to me and I have a problem doing things like establishing in the tone and mood because I can't quite get over the perspective change.Lisa Schmid:
This is a really interesting thing. I heard last night there was a for my book group. We had a local author come. We had read her book called In A Quiet Town. The author's Amber Garza, and she was absolutely delightful. And I was just sitting there listening and everyone's asking her questions and somebody asked her a question about character and she said you know, I was really stuck with this last book. I couldn't figure out like the character's voice and she's like I couldn't connect to the character and I got stuck and I was just. I was listening to that and I've been working on this new manuscript and I've kind of been stuck. All of a sudden I realized when she was saying that it's like, oh, I'm not connected enough to this character, like I'm not feeling it yet, like I love the story but I'm like I got to. I have to find a way to connect with this character more on a deeper level so that I care about what happens to Do you know what I mean?Beth McMullen:
It's like I know, it's true, it's like meeting a new person, getting to know them, deciding they're going to be your friend, investing all that effort Right. Bloody, bloody, bloody it's the same thing, except they don't exist. You know, that's the part where people are like you're really weird, I know.Lisa Schmid:
Well, and that it was so helpful to me last night just hearing another author speak about her writing journey and this specific story and I really like the light bulb went off and I'm like, oh my God, I really need to do a deep dive into this character and figure out what little nugget is missing, so that I am motivated to tell his story, because I've gotten to a point where I'm like what am I doing with him, you know, and so yeah yeah, that's something else to think about. That I've never like Really specifically identified. It's something I think I've always inherently done. But for this one I was like, oh yeah, I think I need to find a way to connect. So that's another great way to find your character's voice.Beth McMullen:
Number four develop consistency. This is super important because you sometimes will be reading a book and you'll think you know the character as it's been presented to you and then suddenly they do something or say something or act in a way that you know just is not consistent and that makes you kind of go hmm, I don't know. Now I'm kind of thrown out of this story and I I'm not as bested in what happens, because I feel like the character took a sharp left and they shouldn't have. So you want to maintain consistency in your character's voice throughout the story. Now, your character, of course, is evolving, because there's no story unless they're evolving or following their character arc. But the voice has to be consistent so you can't suddenly have them saying things and behaving in ways that just don't align with what you've been doing before. So the reader should be able to recognize who is speaking or narrating based on what you have done already. So they should never have a moment where the character is so unfamiliar that they can't recognize them. That is super important because people will abandon your book if you do that because it feels like as a reader you've been misled and no one likes that feeling. It can really destroy the ability for you to get your reader to stick with you through the whole story.Lisa Schmid:
All right, our next tip Show. Don't tell we hear this all the time.Beth McMullen:
Like that's we should just tattoo that on our foreheads, right? So every time you look in the mirror you see show, don't tell the very first writing workshop I went to.Lisa Schmid:
I was sitting next to the agent and she had my you know my pages and I could see her writing across the show don't tell show don't tell, and I was like what does that mean?Beth McMullen:
You're like, I don't think it's a compliment.Lisa Schmid:
It was like, you know, a red marker is. She's like slashing through my manuscript, like screaming and cackling, you know. All right, so use descriptive language, vivid imagery and sensory details to immerse your readers in the world you're creating. Show the characters emotions, thoughts and actions, rather than simply telling the reader about them, and I think this is probably one of the most effective ways to show your characters voice. You know it's how they respond to situations to they respond with kindness or they mean or they snarky, like you know. Whatever is happening with that character, every word you put down on paper in regards to them is laying a little piece, a little brick about who that character is and how they view the world and how they respond to the world.Beth McMullen:
So today, this is the top five deep dive, but we are giving you an extra few tips because we just want to over deliver on what we're doing today, so we're just going to keep barreling on with number six. Number six or five, I love it. Use dialogue effectively. Pay attention to how your characters speak. The dialogue should be natural and reflect their personalities, their backgrounds, their emotional state. Avoid formal or contrived dialogue that doesn't fit the character. Take I mean taken to consideration regional language and dialects and where they live all of the things that will be brought to bear on the person that you're creating. This one is super important. I sometimes read dialogue where I think to myself this is not the way this person would be communicating.Lisa Schmid:
Yeah, you know, even though we've talked about this a dozen times, I was just going through my edits for Heart and Souls and I realized I'm like, oh my gosh, I'm like breaking all these rules. I had some like us and I'm just like what are you doing? Are you like a mad woman? Do you forget every writing rule you've ever learned? And I was like madly going through and cleaning up my dialogue. I was just I don't know what occurred, but that was like in my panic editing. I was like going through and tightening up my dialogue so I didn't sound, you know, my characters didn't sound like babbling fools or something.Beth McMullen:
I feel like you need to make every word count in dialogue because your characters you definitely don't want them doing long-winded monologues. Nobody wants to read that. Every word has to deliver something. I think dialogue is the thing that you come back to and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. As you work through the process of writing your manuscript, you get to know that character better and then it's easier to write their dialogue. But I think it's so critical to get it right or it's going to screw up your whole book.Lisa Schmid:
Yes, absolutely Number seven read widely. Read a variety of authors and genres to expose yourself to different writing styles and voices. This can help you find inspiration and develop your own unique voice. Reading is the one thing that you can always do that's going to help you find that voice or find that style. And there's certain people I read consistently because I love how their character's voice comes out and I look at how they do it. What are the nuances of their writing that really project that unique voice in the character?Beth McMullen:
I think too, if you want to find good examples of voice, pick a popular multi-entry series, because those people, those authors, have established a character that is so well-defined that they can carry them through multiple titles. And you'll get a real solid sense of who the character is. The character's very well-defined, you know how they're going to react to stuff. You're in it, you're continuing to read because it's fun and you like the character and you feel like you know the character and all of those things are the hallmark of super effective voice, like if you feel like you're showing up to a series over and over because this character is part of your life, part of your universe. It feels like your friend, that is somebody who has nailed it.Lisa Schmid:
Yeah, when you study other books, that to me is better than any class you can take. People ask what did you do, what classes did you take? And I'm like you know what? I just read a lot and then you just kind of absorb how a story is supposed to be told. So reading is my classroom, like that's what I do. I study other authors and authors who do it well, and that's to me always the number one resource.Beth McMullen:
Yeah, that is super good advice that everybody should be taking. I mean, don't, there's no point in trying to be a writer if you don't read Honestly. You've got to read. There's no other. There's no shortcut, and you should love the reading. Almost everybody that I know who's a writer loves to read. That's how they ended up there in the first place, Even if they came to reading late. A lot of people that we know who are authors didn't like reading when they were kids and they worked their way toward it and then it became a real passion.Lisa Schmid:
Yeah, and then, last and not most important, but it is important is listen to feedback. Seek feedback from beta readers or critique partners. They can provide valuable insights and how into how your voice comes across to readers and offer suggestions for improvement. One of the biggest lessons or interesting feedback that I got from a critique partner or maybe it was an editor, I can't remember who I got it from on Oli Oxley. I think I was working out some childhood trauma and my character was very angry about everything and I remember somebody writing off in the side why is he so angry? And I'm like, why? don't know why am I so angry? I was working out some stuff in that book and so you know, sometimes when you're really trying to convey something, it can be over the top. I'll have other people read it. Lucy, that's Lucy, everybody. Yeah, she's just like she wasn't crying with me. So, anyway, definitely have other readers give you feedback, because you never know, you may be pouring too much voice into that character and you want to pull it back, or not enough voice, and so and don't be afraid to ask those people for specifics.Beth McMullen:
So if they say this doesn't feel right, don't be afraid to say can you tell me why? Can you help me get down to kind of brass tax here. Like what, what is it that doesn't feel right? What is it that feels strange? To try to get down to very specific things that you can work on. Developing a strong voice, as you probably have figured out, takes time and practice. You've got to work on your craft. You've got to write regularly and experiment with different styles. Don't be discouraged If things go sideways. That's going to happen, it's inevitable, and over time your voice will become more refined and unique and reliable. It will become something that you can just do. So if you're in the trenches right now, if you're in that journey, then don't stress it, just keep working on it and know that you will have a moment where you realize that you've got your arms around the voice of this character and it's working Exactly.Lisa Schmid:
And when that moment happens, it's just, it makes the writing easier and it's glorious. All of a sudden, everything clicks. Glorious, it is glorious. I'm waiting for that moment with this new manuscript. It's going to happen, though.Beth McMullen:
Yeah, I'm having the same problem. I have this character and I'm like I don't even like her. She's so annoying. So you know that if you don't like your character and she's annoying, you probably have some work to do. I haven't had that Eureka moment with her voice yet, but I've written enough books that I know it will come. I just have to keep showing up to the page and eventually I will have that moment and then it will all be fine. So don't worry, you'll get there. That's something we want you to keep in mind.Lisa Schmid:
I'm going to try to keep that in mind, okay.Beth McMullen:
Good. So that is all for today's episode. We will be back next week with New York Times bestselling and multi-award winning author, amy Dykeman. We get a lot of interest here on the podcast in writing picture books. So we are bringing in someone who is an expert on picture books and we are going to get tons of information out of her to help you, and I'm very excited for that episode. So please join us if you can, and until then, happy reading, writing and listening. Bye Lisa, bye Beth, bye guys.