Have you fought the feeling that your authorial voice keeps eluding you?
Me, too. For years, my deepest frustration has been trying to find my voice as a writer. I needed to know so I could figure out which genre best fit my stories and style; that is, I wanted to determine where to place myself in the large writing and publishing milieu before I spent a year writing the wrong novel, which . . . I did.
I tried using different pseudos. I tried writing historical mystery, romantic and contemporary suspense, creative nonfiction, and . . . you get the idea. I fought with my characters, who would start out as mean, hard-nosed antagonists and end up being edgy protags. Ah! It was a daunting struggle.
Finally, I realized that the conflict could be resolved if I accepted who I am, where my stories are coming from, that deep, repressed core. Yep, it sound easy for those of you who've done that, or had no problem doing that, but for the rest of us . . . Argh!
I've come to think that voice can described based primarily on two things:
1. What's inside, what you feel you must express; simply stated, your voice is based on who you are. It can't be contrived and, if it is, it's easily recognized by readers as such. I don't imagine Picasso would have painted water the same way as Monet.
2. The literary tropes and schema you select to make the desired expression, which also must not be contrived, are telling. Picasso and Monet used techniques, just differing ones.
So I won't be writing the next great noir novel: It's not a genre in which I can find expression, although I read and enjoy it. On the other hand, I've stopped denying (for fear of critical reprisal) the gritty, sometimes . . . yes . . . nasty irreverent heathens that my characters tend to be. They are SOB's, and I LIKE them. I've also stopped worrying about whether my story is didactic; it is. All stories are, in one way or another. Mine is just a little more heavy handed because, yes, damn it, I do have a message I wish to express.
The tropes? Oh, you better believe I know my writing tropes, and I pick and choose the ones that best elucidate my message and help me find expression. It's been an exercise in self discipline, but I've turned the critical eye I use to evaluate others' work on my own (www.buzzardbone.blogspot.com). It has helped considerably. Why not? I have the skills, I know the tools of my craft. I've just not consciously made myself use them.
So my question is, What about you? Do you . . . have you struggled to find your voice? How did you cope with the frustration? What have your successes been? What . . . are your favorite tropes, and do you use them consciously?
Never found any tricks. I'm just working on it until they're real people with developed traits. One thing that helps me is thinking of each character as the "hero" of their own story. Everybody thinks the action's about them. Like actors, they're all hams. As a writer, you can pretend to be an actor, too -- find some little piece of yourself that becomes a defining trait or motive for each POV character.
I love thinking like a bad guy and rationalizing my behavior!
Leaving aside dialogue in any POV. Thoughts fall into the category of narrative. The thoughts themselves, of course, need to fit the character, but the narrative is in the author's voice. Well, there's a gray area, if he thinks in sentences or phrases. As in: You f-ing bastard, he thought.
I suppose it depends on how far you go into his head. Somewhere along this line, one drifts away from voice and into characterization.
Ahhhh, astute, I.J. Yep, the movement within/through POV moves us from voice to characterization. But this feels to me when I'm writing like a dog chasing its tail kinda thing. I actually have a method for developing and differentiating my characters, but when I write a section from their POV, I can feel my voice bleeding through when I begin giving characters thoughts, or when I allow them to reflect on something they just said or did. One construct I use, pretty simplistic, is FAD. Feelings, action, dialogue (and any combination thereof). So I might have my character feeling something, acting on it, then saying something. The feeling part of the FAD construct is a trap for me because I do sometimes tend to intrude, imposing my own rather than my characters' thoughts. So voice and characterization tend to blur, which I think is not good for the story. Thus, I pay attention to that when I'm writing, and to the tropes I use to construct the FAD.
Well, maybe you worry too much. If the plan is to stay completely out of it, then by all means revise to use the character's language.
I run into this also. My narrative is formal, my dialogue is adapted to the speaker, but usually somewhat casual anyway, but I constantly go through during revision replacing formal words with simpler ones and correcting dialogue when it doesn't ring true. I think that sort of thing is normal.
So true, so true, I.J. I do worry way too much. I like what you say about going through during revison and replacing the formal words (bad tapes from grad school I call 'em). At times, I become paralyzed thinking, well, these characters all sound the same! When I get too crazy thinking that, I try to remember my mom reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and I mimic my characters speaking out loud. Ya know? Papa Bear says, this bed's too hard . . . Mama Bear says . . . Baby bear says . . . . (in his little baby bear voice). So that way I can actually hear my characters speaking as they should. It helps.
It's not technically a trope, but I'm a big fan of sentence fragments. Believe they add to the rhythm of the writing. It drives my paranormal romance writer friend crazy.
Oh, and I tend to agree with Jack and Dana that the narrative does change (somewhat) when switching point-of-view characters. It's unconscious, but their personalities seem to creep into the narrative. Hopefully without overpowering The Voice.
Think I might try that out-of-sequence draft to check for continuity. Great idea.
(BTW Jack, really enjoyed Big Numbers, though I seem to have acquired a sudden fear of deep sea fishing.)