POV is only half the battle, of course. Actually, it’s probably less than a quarter of the battle. POV is what you do, but Voice is how you do it. Voice should be a natural part of the story – if you, as the reader, think about the Voice, the writer screwed the pooch – but there are all kinds of ways to handle it. I mentioned a long while back that the last two stories I wrote were…umm…boring, conventional and completely soulless. Plot and planning had something to do with that, but it also came down a great deal to the Voice. Too formal, too staid, too reserved, and way too much like a narrator from some 70s drama.
Now, I’m a character-driven guy. My protagonist has to have his own take on everything, or the story falls flat. I struggled with Connor’s voice in Wrath & Tears. Oh, not because I didn’t know what he should sound like, but because I had trouble letting-go of my ingrained inhibitions enough to actually write him the way he needed to be written. That critical little voice in my head kept pissing away at me about swearing, about cynicism, about alcoholism, and about the bitter despair that colored everything.
Listening to that little voice had made the previous stories blah, so I wasn’t going to repeat that mistake. Not listening to that little voice is hard, by the way. Most of us little writer-lings have had language and formality drummed into our heads. Ignoring all those lessons (from editors, from teachers, from your mom…) isn’t easy in any way, shape or form.
Now, first off, I need to say that I’m happy with Connor’s Voice. Yes, it’s foul. Yes, it’s bitter and angry. But it very much is true to a seventeen year old guy still learning what it really means to be worldly and “tough”. That being said, it was initially very hard to put on paper – err, on screen, actually (I write on an iPad, mostly). The proper tone and rhythm and language ran counter to many, many instincts. Connor’s Voice, simply put, breaks a lot of rules. I intentionally made things choppy and ragged, and filled with little asides and interjections, to reflect the way he thinks and functions.
It took one key step for me to actually let go those inhibitions and just write him: writing at the brewery. As often as I joke about “my office”, I would not have been able to pull off anything close to the Voice I did without that environment around me. One of the things I’ve learned is just how much your surroundings color what you write. When I write at home, the scenes are slower and more intellectual. Slow and intellectual might have worked for Asimov and Clarke, but definitely not for me. I want and need the immediacy and visceral reality of raw emotion.
Does it, I hear you ask, have to have quite so many swear words? Yes, yes it does. Connor is seventeen and anary at the entire universe. To write him honestly I had to “channel” the angry, confused person I used to be…that I still sometimes am. I also had to remember a great deal of my own past…which was the point of the story, by the way.
One reason this blog is “anonymous” is that my intent is to publish Wrath & Tears under a pseudonym. I have a long-ass list of reasons why, but to keep things simple I will just say I want to lock that book (and possible sequels) into a separate little box. The language & tone, the personal shit, the entire experience…they are their own world. Let that world color itself. When and if I write a fantasy story/series, it will have a different feeling and tone. Keeping things divided and separate will be fairly necessary, both for business reasons and for what’s left of my sanity.