Thursday, May 20, 2010

Narrative Voices

Since my books are first-person narratives, it's easy to get into a bit of a rut. Ruts can be nice, mind you. Sometimes they're downright comfy. But sometimes you'd like to put on a new pair of shoes and step out of that rut. Stretch your legs, go on a minor perambulation off-road, discover wombats lurking in the undergrowth. Find buried treasure. Or simply find out where the hell this metaphor is going, because I'm not sure anymore.

I've been stepping outside the (entirely pleasant) rut lately. For five chapters in Hammered, I get to tell the story in the voice of a different narrator. Making each narrator sound (and read) differently than my accustomed narrative voice is the fun bit. And it's really bizarre what it can do to your head when you sink yourself so deeply into a character that you begin to think like him.

One of my characters is especially hirsute—as in, don't let him make you any food without a full-body hairnet. After writing in his voice for an hour, I was overwhelmed with an urgent need to shave. And get a haircut. I actually felt hairier after writing and thinking in his voice.

That might indicate I have a dire need for therapy. But I hope it means I'm writing a lively character with his own personality.

Hmmm. If writing a hairy character makes me want to shave...I think I'll create a skinny character next and drop ten pounds after writing a thousand words in his voice. And I will never, ever write a criminal because I like living outside of jail.

I know not how others do it, but I create a very specific set of verbal tics for each character. Leif Helgarson doesn't use contractions often, for example, giving his diction an almost ridiculous level of formality. A Russian character neglects to use articles and often forgets to use pronouns, etc.

51K on Hammered now. For some reason, being over 50K makes me feel like I'm sprinting for the finish line. I do a little "Halfway!" dance all through the 40s, but once I hit 50K I know I'm on the home stretch. D'oh! Writing "home stretch" made Mötley Crüe's "Home Sweet Home" pop into my head. And now that I've written it down and you've read it, it's in your head too. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Mötley Crüe is a virus.


  1. Foiled! it is not in my head!

    Congratulations on hitting 51K!

    I'm working through Helen in first person, which isn't my usual MO-- I'm generally a third person kind of girl, for novels-- but First Person is really pervasive. Once I started writing in it for Helen, everyone else started talking to me in first person too. I'm not sure I'm entirely pleased with the development.

  2. The Mötley Crüe virus will strike you down eventually. If it isn't the "Home Sweet Home" strain, it'll be "Looks that Kill" or the dreaded "Dr. Feelgood." You cannot escape them forever. ;-)

    It's true first person can be seductive—it brings a character to life so well. But it also presents narrative problems in that it's a pretty narrow filter. There are other characters' heads I'd like to explore, but I can't because I'm locked in now.

  3. My third person is usually so close that I have the same problem with it limiting my focus as I do in first person-- the only difference is that there is a bit less pronoun confusion (in first), when it comes down to it. But at least in third person you have the OPTION of pulling back a bit!

  4. Motley Crue's power ballads are the best! What I am most impressed with though is how you got the little dots above the o and u. You're so smart.'re doing amazing things with narrative voice and I'm impressed with the "dots." I need a nap.

  5. Umlauts ("dots") are probably my favorite verbal doodad. I have a blog post coming up about a guy named Olaf Umlaut, in fact.

    FYI if you want to do the umlauts, in Safari you go up to Edit>Special Characters, choose the one you want, then click Insert. That way you can spell names like Väinämöinen correctly. :-)

  6. I asked Dustin if he has ever heard of "umlauts." He said, "Yeah, I've heard of numnuts." I said, "exactly."

    Thanks for the tip. ; )