Finding My Voice
Elizabeth Ellen Carter
One thing that people have not accused me of being is quiet.
But I’m delighted by J’aimee Brooker’s opportunity to talk about finding my voice.
While I won’t subject you to the karaoke (my husband is the singer in the family, not me), my voice in writing is quite another thing altogether.
I consider that I had an unfair advantage in starting my writing career as a journalist when I was a teenager. I was trained early on that within the context of a couple of hundreds words I had to ensure that the person I interviewed felt that they had been represented fairly.
In other words, I had to find their voice. In the case of an interview I had the opportunity to talk to the person, observe their mannerisms and particularly in the case of celebrity interviews, capture their verbal tics.
I fully understood that I had that skill when our newsroom had a new editor. He was going through everyone’s stories for evaluation. I had written a feature on chronic fatigue syndrome and had interviewed a sufferer.
Little did I know at the time, but she was a friend of the editor. The editor told me that I had written her direct speech exactly as she spoke and he asked me whether I used a tape recorder (yes, I know tape, but it was a long time ago – like 1990s ago…).
I hadn’t. I just made handwritten notes and observed not only what she said but how she said it.
Writing fiction is no different.
If you cannot make your characters seem like real people, then chances are your audience won’t buy it either. Your characters need to have specific mannerisms – perhaps there is a word they always use or under stress, they may rush our sentences.
These things bring your writing alive and make your characters intensely relatable.
–Excerpt from Moonstone Obsession–
“Oh! You’re an artist! I should have guessed you were very clever,” she gushed. “I never had any such skill. My cows look like boxes with horns and my sheep look like clouds with legs. Let me take a look. You don’t mind, do you? They say artists hate anyone looking at their work until it’s complete, but you’re not like that are you?”
Selina stifled a grin and shook her head in response as Edith skipped around the easel to stand at her shoulder.
“Oh that’s marvellous!” Edith enthused. “I know you’re not finished yet but I can see it’s going to be wonderful.” She turned to the patient young soldier. “Come over here and see what a gifted artist Miss Selina is.”
The young man—tall, broad shouldered, and a lieutenant by the decoration on his uniform—dutifully complied.
“It’s a very nice painting, Miss,” he agreed.
“Oh!” said Edith. So much of what she said began with that single exclamation. “How rude of me! Miss Selina Rosewall, please allow me to introduce Lieutenant Roger Walsh.”
But writing a novel is more than just the dialogue, it is the words in between which brings context and richness to the story.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that there are two types of writers – those who are like impressionist painters – their descriptions are lightly drawn which leaves the reader with the opportunity to fill in the gaps. Not every scene needs to be detailed, just a point of two to provide direction is enough.
For other authors, detail is everything.
I’m reminded of a quote from an American thriller/crime author Andrew Klavan. In addition writing novels, he spent quite a few years being a Hollywood script editor. He said he prefers novels which are rich in detail. Those that are dialogue driven, to the expensive of scene setting, is like reading a script awaiting a director and an actor’s interpretation.
I feel the same. Writing historical romance and doing so in a setting which may not be immediately familiar to modern audiences, I prefer to write in a way that engages the reader’s senses:
The Black Boar Arms on the Isle of Dogs marked the start of the ship building district of London. It had a permanent acrid smell of smoke, stale beer, unwashed bodies, and piss.
In the back corner, two men, both dressed in cheap, shabby clothing like the rest of the patrons in the pub, sat hunched over their pints of ale seemingly disinterested in everyone and everything apart from their drinking. Despite this, their tankards emptied slowly. Not so slowly as to attract the notice of the two harried barmaids, but not so quickly as to make these two patrons drunk.
Somewhere, as a clock struck the tenth hour of the evening, one of the men shifted in his seat.
My advice to authors who are looking to find their voice is to explore who are as readers.
What draws you to some books and not others? What do you enjoy reading? How do you relate the world around you? Are you a highly detailed person or are you a big picture type?
Knowing yourself is the best way of finding your voice.
Elizabeth Ellen Carter’s debut novel, the Regency Romance Moonstone Obsession was published in October 2013, she is looking for a publisher for her Medieval Romance, Warrior’s Surrender and is currently working on a sequel to Moonstone Obsession called Moonstone Conspiracy.