The Voice of Point-of-View

“I’m looking for great voice!” That’s what every editor and agent in the business keeps saying over and over. Yet, at the same time they have trouble describing voice. “I can’t describe it,” they say. “But, I’ll know it when I read it.”

But what is it? And how do we writers find our voice?

This is a complex topic. But I’ve discovered that one great way to discover the power of voice (and what it is for that matter) is to experiment with point-of-view. Choosing a point of view for your story will greatly influence the narrative voice of your novel. It’s a lot more than pronouns. It’s about perspective, and “who” is telling the story. The story of one event will be told differently depending upon the POV. Choosing to tell a story from inside a protagonist’s head (first person) or from an omniscient narrator is going to create vastly different voices.

Don’t believe me? Try the following exercise and see what happens.

Point of View Exercise:

Step One: Find two paragraphs of your present work-in-progress that includes an event with multiple characters and no dialog. (Or write two new paragraphs).

Step Two: Identify the POV you wrote those paragraphs in (i.e. first person, third person limited, omniscient etc.) and skip the step below that is the POV you originally used.

Step Three: Rewrite your paragraphs from the POV of your protagonist using first person.

Step Four: Rewrite your paragraphs from the POV of another character interacting in the scene using third person limited.

Step Five: Rewrite your paragraphs using dramatic POV.

Step Six: Rewrite your paragraphs using omniscient POV.

Step Seven: Rewrite your paragraphs from the POV of a character outside the action, who watches but doesn’t interact. Use the third person limited.

Step Eight: Now compare your paragraphs. What changed in each POV? How did the voice change? How did the diction and word choices change? How did the distance from the scene change? How does the narrator or character’s attitude change the voice?

Now tell us how it went!!!

Also, check out these other great links on voice and point of view:

The Writing Gym: Use It or Lose It

Summer’s coming, is your bikini body ready?

It seems spring has sprung and that means the check-out stand at the grocery store is filled with magazine headlines endorsing ten minute work-outs and crash diets. And while I’m anti-gym and pro-cupcake, I found myself wondering if my philosophy of physical fitness might have some layover in my writing. It’s true, I don’t write every day. Don’t get me wrong, I do write, but I’m more of a crash-marathon-weekend kinda gal. And this got me thinking…

Should I be exercising the literary muscle a little bit more? Am I going to wake up one day middle aged and with flabby sentences?

Coincidentally, I just started reading Gail Carson Levine’s book Writing Magic. It seems Levine’s decided to become my literary personal trainer, because each chapter is filled with writing prompts and exercises to get the heart pumpin’ and the creative juices ready for swimsuit season! So what the heck, an exercise here or there can only help! So I’m going to attempt to post one writing exercise a week here on the blog, and I encourage everyone else to get back into shape with me!

MY FIRST WRITING EXERCISE:

Write for at least twenty minutes starting with the following sentence: I have one green eye and one brown eye. The green eye sees truth, but the brown eye sees much, much more.

What I wrote:

I have one green eye and one brown eye. The green eye sees truth, but the brown eye sees much, much more. When my baby sister Madeline ran up to me with her legs covered in mud, and tears coating her cheeks, I thought it was just another Sunday morning.  I’d clean her up, tell her to leave the Bora twins alone, and wipe away her tears with a cookie.

What I didn’t expect was the light.

Like a firecracker exploding, a ribbon of sunlight carved its way out of Madeline’s forehead. My whole body seized because I thought she’d been shot. But when she held her dirty palms up to me the light shot out of her fingertips as well, and I knew something was amiss. The light was coming from everywhere, emanating out of her like a burst of starlight. And yet, she didn’t seem to notice at all. She complained that the Bora twins had deliberately tripped her and ruined her good-day shoes. She didn’t see the sparkles that dripped from her lips as she spoke. She didn’t see the silver glow that haloed her hair. I closed my green eye, the one that sees the truth, and she grew even brighter. I closed the brown eye and the light disappeared, like a shut window. That’s when I knew.

My father had warned me about the sight. He’d warned me that if I ever saw the signs that I should tell him right away. But I didn’t want to tell him. I looked to the end of the porch where my older sister Emily sat hunched in a rocking chair, knitting. She was not the first in our family to have the sight, but she was the most recent to tell father about it. She looked up and smiled weakly at me and Madeline. Emily used to be beautiful, but now her face is half-hidden behind a patch of black cloth. She had been an obedient daughter. She’d told father about the sight, at first sign, just as he had asked her to do. And the next day the doctors came to our hut with their knives and bottles of gin.

Father had the doctors remove the eye. He had them cut it right out.