It can be a challenge to develop your own voice and balance the different voices of characters in your story. But it is crucial to push through and achieve clarity so that your reader can easily distinguish between the voices of your narrator and various characters, and connect with your story. Robert Gott’s Winter School workshop, Voice and Point of View, is approaching and in the lead up we chatted to him about all things voice.
What are some common mistakes that writers make with voice, both their own and their characters?
Perhaps the most common mistake is making all characters sound the same and that is usually the result of the writer’s voice being too intrusive. Differentiating between voices is a difficult trick to pull off without descending into incomprehensible phonetic rendering of accents. The establishment of characters as individuals is essential to a narrative’s success.
Do you find that writing voice is something that eventually just clicks into place or do you continually need to revisit and refine this?
Writing voice only clicks into place when the writer has an assured idea of who his or her characters are. It’s never easy, but you should be able to construct conversations in your head between characters and understand why and how your characters are behaving and speaking. Writing a novel or a short story is a continual and continuous process of refinement.
What is your favourite point of view to adopt and why?
This depends entirely on the novel I’m writing. In one series I write in the first person in the voice of a character who is pompous and rather annoying, but I love that voice. It amuses me, and I hope my readers. The other series I write is in the universal third person. This is much easier in some ways because I’m not constricted to one point of view. The third person allows different perspectives and different voices to be heard without being filtered through the first person narrator.
At what point in your writing process do you consider voice: in your early drafts or later when you are building and editing?
Voice always comes right at the beginning. Of course it will be refined as characters develop and assume greater importance in the narrative, but voice, both my own and that of my characters, determines the tone of the novel. That can’t be added after the novel has been finished.
What are some of your favourite multi-narrator novels?
Charles Dickens’ 'Bleak House', Emily Bronte’s 'Wuthering Heights' spring to mind, but there are many, many multiple-narrator novels that I love. Recently Gillian Flynn’s 'Gone Girl' was a treat to read
What is the best piece of advice you have received around developing and using voice?
The best advice I received was that I had to find my own voice in writing before I could find the voices that differed from my own. I think that’s the best advice I can give too.
About Robert Gott
Robert Gott is the author of more than 90 works of non-fiction for children and seven adult crime novels, two of which have been shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Fiction. He is also the creator of the long-running cartoon in The Age newspaper ‘The Adventures of Naked Man’.
About Elisa McTaggart
Elisa McTaggart is the Program and Marketing Intern at Writers Victoria. She works freelance as a writer, photographer and project manager, while establishing a wilderness photography and nature writing art practice.