Thursday, April 17, 2014

Voice and Tone

I'm working on a new project right now (unrelated to The Never Silent) and seeing how I feel about it. Unlike my most recent novels, it's got a dual POV. This isn't the first time I've written two main characters, but it's been long enough that I'm more aware of the individual voices.

Voice. Such a nebulous thing, but so important. A lot of people say they read for the voice. Or, in some cases, not read. An annoying voice can really get under the skin.

Voice is supposed to be unique to a character. It encompasses so much about that person--how they think, how they speak, how they look at the world.

And yet I keep noticing in some of the books I've read a lack of distinction between the individual voices. Surely the characters aren't identical in thought, speech and perspective. But they sound the same.

As I'm discovering, though, it's really hard not to make them sound the same.

For me voice is really easy to change from book to book. In The Never Silent, my main character Henry is a boy from the 1840s. He absolutely does not sound like a boy from today would sound. In my previous novel, the character was a girl from a post-apocalyptic future. Very different.

But I've realized that the voices I write depend not only on setting, but also very much on tone. Is the tone serious? Playful? Wry? Spooky? I don't know about other writers, but I'm finding that I have a specific default voice for each of those tones.

Well, that's great, right? Different tones means different voices.

Only in most cases the tone of a book should remain the same even when the voices change. And here's where I'm running into trouble. The tone of the new project is fun and lighthearted (which, by the way, is a huge departure from most of my other writing). I'm so very tempted to put both voices into my default for that tone.

But that's lazy. I have to concentrate on separating the two.

Will it work? We'll see. Personally I can tell the difference between them, but whether anyone else can remains to be seen.

How do you feel about voice and tone? Do they come naturally, or do you have to work on them?


  1. I think a character with a very serious tone would work well in a fun and light-hearted. In the old days, it was typical to have two man comedy teams with a "straight man" to be on the receiving end of all the jokes. Consider Sam the Eagle in the Muppets.

    1. Hm, that's a good point. I hadn't really considered it, but that could work very well if done properly.