Posts Tagged ‘Alice in Wonderland’

Voice. Sometimes, I feel this can be the hardest thing to create in a story, especially when you’re writing in first person. You, as the writer, have to create this unique person, someone with a personality, desires, fears, likes, and pet peeves. And then you have to give them a unique speaking voice, including vocabulary and word choice, syntax, grammar, accent, and all that can be really difficult. A lot of us have that distinct writer’s voice* in our heads that is always arranging our sentences on the page (or on the blog post) in a way that reads like what we consider good literature.

And it’s even more hindered when you consider where our writer voices come from. You see, I have this hypothesis that every writer’s storytelling voice is born when they read a great story and the narration resonates with them on a deeper level. This could be their own voice reading their first chapter book as a child, a parent reading to them a fantasy novel by their bedside and making the story come alive, or an audio book narrator with a great speaking voice behind the words. No matter how many other stories we may read or listen to later in life with their own amazing narrative styles–the childlike humor and observations of Alice in Wonderland, Stephen King’s odd characters and descriptions, or the three women from The Help and how they each view their situation from vastly different backgrounds and dispositions–it will always be this original narrator who contributed the base DNA for your writer’s voice, and whom a part of you will always spend a good amount of time both trying to emulate in power and break away from so you don’t sound like a copycat.

For me, I always go to Jim Dale’s narration of the Harry Potter audio books. Harry Potter was a big part of my childhood, and caused me to start writing in the first place. My first attempt at writing was something like a Harry Potter gender-bend fanfiction. And Jim Dale made the text come alive, in ways the movies and the books alone couldn’t. Whenever I wrote, in the back of my mind, I was comparing and contrasting to Jim Dale’s work. And while I’ve managed to develop my own voice, it’s still a fight that goes on in the back of my head up to this day.

So basically, I’m fighting Jim Dale in my head while trying to create an original narrator’s voice on the page.It’s an image perfect for a Family Guy cutaway gag.

Struggling against this guy in my head every time I write.

So what can you do when you’re trying to create a distinct voice for your narrator or narrators? What do you do when you want to make Skeeter sound different from Abilene and Abilene from Minnie, or Cormoran Strike from Harry Potter, or Lestat from Louis? And can I come up with any other characters for comparison? The answer to the latter question is yes I can, but I’ll stick to the former if you don’t mind too much.

As many of you know, I’ve been working on a new story while I wait to hear back from my beta readers. And as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m taking a more organic approach by writing this story without much planning and seeing what evolves from that. And weirdly, that approach has allowed me to tap more fully into my narrator’s head. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think it might have something to do with the plotting vs. pantsing thing I talked about in that previous post. When I’m plotting, I think out every detail of the story, not leaving much room for change or experimentation. Thus, the narrator’s voice becomes secondary to telling the story I want to tell, in the way I want it to be told, and the narrator’s voice ends up as something close to default writer’s voice.

But while I’m pantsing it (or plantsing it, as my friend Kat Impossible informs me), that particular mental clamp isn’t in place. Thus, without having to worry about getting my story from Point A to Points B, C, D, E and F (I’m not even sure if I have a Point F at this point), I can focus more on my narrator and develop her voice. I’ve actually discovered through, just by letting my character be herself and make her observations about the world, she’s a pretty frank and kind of funny. At one point, after saying “her heart fluttered,” she says she sounds like a romance novel, which she hates reading, and her friends consider that a horror “on par with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.” I wrote that in, and I ended up laughing!

I might have to pants/plants my stories more often in the future.

But what if you already write by pantsing or plantsing, or plotting is the only style that works for you? Well, I might have a few suggestions:

  1. Write out the traits of your narrator. If your narrator is a character in the story,  then obviously they have a personality (unless this is an 80’s movie, in which case they’re bland and white). Think about them and what their role is a story. What do they want? What do they stand to lose if they fail? What’s in their past? Who do they hang out with? Figuring this out can give an insight into the character and therefore to the voice that they give.
  2. Have a conversation with the narrator. I forget where I got this, but it’s a good one to use. Grab some paper and a pen, and have a conversation with your character. Ask them questions, and then write down what you’d imagine their responses to be. It seems a little mental, but it’s pretty effective, and can be used for other issues in a story (motivation, plot holes, etc).
  3. Spend time narrating scenes in your head. I’m the kind of guy who spends a lot of time planning the story in my head before I write it (the consequence of having a full-time job and only one me to write). Consequently, there are scenes I’ve written and rewritten several times over in my head. During that time, a character’s personality, worries, beliefs, and of course their voice will emerge through several mental revisions. By the time you get the actual writing, you already have the narrator’s voice down pat.

Voice is always difficult to get right for any narrator, but there are a variety of ways to help you get that voice. Whether it’s writing something differently than usual, or having an imaginary conversation, you can discover your narrator and their voice. And from there, you can make your story that much better.

What do you think of finding a narrator’s voice? Do you have any tips for doing so?

*The writer’s voice, by the way, is very different from our speaking voices. I’m never this eloquent in real life. I actually stammer a bit, my mind racing to get the best sentence out while my mouth is already saying the words. It’s quite annoying, and sadly the only time I’m not plagued with it is probably when I’m telling a joke (usually a stupid one). Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if we could speak like we write blog posts or stories? It might make a few things easier.

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I recently came across a very fun article from the AV Club, which talked about how any opening in a story could be improved by replacing the second (or in some cases, the third) line with the phrase “And then the murders began.” This idea was formulated by author Marc Laidlaw, which has since become known as Laidlaw’s Rule, and is based on some of the advice of author Elmore Leonard, who said you should start your stories with more action-based openings rather than more quiet stuff like describing the weather or doing some sort of backstory.

As you can imagine, Laidlaw’s Rule can make for a rather fun parlor game. I shared the AV Club article in one of my writing groups on Facebook, and we had a ball with this. Here’s my contribution to the game:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. And then the murders began.

Charles Dickens has never been less boring.

And you find that this works with almost any story. Harry Potter, for example:

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number 4, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. And then the murders began.

Just as JK Rowling intended it, I’m sure. How about Alice in Wonderland?

Alice was beginning to get tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do. And then the murders began.

Well, in this LSD-inspired story, anything’s possible. What about Stephen King?

The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain. And then the murders began.

That’s Stephen King’s IT in a nutshell. New movie out September 8th! Check out the trailer that’ll be coming out some time tomorrow. Let’s see, what else? Oh, I know! How about Wuthering Heights?

1801 – I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. And then the murders began.

It’s already improved greatly. And even works on non-fiction works and speeches. For example, the Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. And then the murders began.

America in a nutshell, everybody! Our nation is dangerous to your health.

How about my work? Let’s try Reborn City:

Zahara and her family had decided to eat out at a restaurant in North Reborn that served kosher meat, the closest they could get to halāl. And then the murders began.

Well, there are a few murders in this book (spoilers!). What about Video Rage?

The sunbaked concrete and metal in the hundred-plus degree heat, the many cars and trucks reflected light off their chrome bodies like blinding beasts zooming down the highway. And then the murders began.

Ooh, chilling! How about Snake?

Paul Sanonia had been touched by a nightmare, an unbelievable disaster that had manifested in reality where it shouldn’t belong. And then the murders began.

This novel in a nutshell (more spoilers!).

And the best part is, Laidlaw’s Rule works with pretty much any story. Usually it works best with third-person omniscient narrators, though other narrating styles can work. Take a look at To Kill a Mockingbird:

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. And then the murders began.

Jeez, Atticus Finch’s job just got a lot tougher. I think he’s going to have to play detective as well as defense lawyer and dad.

Marc Laidlaw, the formulator of the Laidlaw Rule.

Yeah, Laidlaw’s Rule is a lot of fun. But it also could make for a fun writing exercise. How many stories have actually begun with “And then the murders began” as the second sentence? As a lot of these kinds of stories like a bit of mystery before you discover a body or two, I’d say not many. So it would be fun to start a story this way. Just come up with a random set up for the first sentence, do “And then the murders began” for the second, and see where it goes from there. We could call it the Laidlaw Exercise (coming to a high school or university writing class near you!). And if I wasn’t neck-deep in finishing a sci-fi trilogy, I might try this! God knows I could tell more than a few stories starting out this way.

Maybe I will when I have a bit of free time. Who knows? I might end up writing something totally awesome.

But what do you think of the Laidlaw Rule? And do you have any contributions you’d like to add? Author friends, I want to hear what your books sounds like when given the Laidlaw treatment! Let’s discuss in the comments below.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll have another post out later this week, so keep an eye out for it. Until next time!

…And then the murders began.