Welcome to my self-indulgent location for the stories (good and bad) that I can't prevent myself from writing. All comments and criticisms welcome. I post on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Yes, I already hear you groaning. Don't worry. I'm groaning, too.

It is the most unexplainable je-ne-sais-quois crucial ingredient to a book getting picked up by an agent or publisher, of a short story getting sold to a journal, or creating a compelling read in general. Yet no one can explain it. You've either got it, or you don't.

*more groaning*

Okay, fine. I'll concede that it's either there or it's not. But there are different ways to develop voice. It does exist, and we all have it, but we have to find a way to get it out there.

Let's start with the 1st person voice. I think it's easier—for me—to accomplish a compelling voice in first person. I imagine the narrator as an actual person, which is far from daunting since the narrator is also a character with a backstory and a personality. In other words, s/he has a voice of her/his own, and this comes out in the narration.

When I started writing again, most of what I wrote was in 1st person. Perhaps this was the path of least resistance—and may also be the reason why writing instructors prefer 3rd person—but it worked, sort of. Maybe the voice wasn't great (trust me, it really wasn't), maybe it was inconsistent, but it was there sometimes. And with some work, I could bring it out more and more.

Here's the problem: I recently decided, for various reasons, that one particular novel should be in 3rd person instead of 1st. I need to be able to track more than just the MC through her travels. (I could, potentially, have two 1st person narrators, though I'm not sure how I feel about that.) So I chose to try my hand at 3rd person and rewrite.

And the voice................. disappeared.


So my question(s): If a 1st person narrator's voice can be developed through the character his/herself, how does one develop a compelling 3rd person omniscient narrator? These narrators are amorphous, misty creatures, based solely off a voice that comes from the nether-regions of our imaginations. But who ARE they? Are they characters? My HS English teacher would say "yes". How do you define them? How do you create them in such a way to give them that je-ne-sais-quois factor, which is in and of itself amorphous and particularly misty?

I'm clearly missing something, but creating an amorphous, misty narrator with an amorphous, misty, je-ne-sais-quois voice seems... well, nothing is impossible or we'd only ever read 1st person literature.

What am I missing, folks? Please help me uncover the secrets to a compelling, 3rd person voice.


Ted Cross said...

I am curious why you would want 3rd person omniscient? For me a close 3rd makes for a far more compelling read, and it would also help with voice.

Tracy Walshaw said...

I think to get a feel for doing the 3rd person voice well you don't have to look much further than the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling does an incredible job of letting us get to know every character well and yet the 'voice' stays the same throughout all seven novels.

I'm sure there are other excellent examples, but this popped in my mind. My first novel was 3rd person. It seemed perfectly natural, and back then I wouldn't have dreamed of having the guts to go 1st. Now, I choose 1st person without a thought. The character starts forming in my mind and talks. This makes it difficult to think in 3rd with them droning on with their side of things! HA!

Er...anyway, just some thoughts. :) Great blog!

Theresa Milstein said...

Switching from 1st to 3rd is probably the easiest way to have voice in the 3rd person. On Facebook, I've seen several posts from people who've decided they had to change from one to the other. I'm sure it's a big pain.

My first writings were in the 3rd person, but the last few have been in the first. I prefer first because, like you, I do get more into the character's head.

Good luck!

Charity Bradford said...

*sigh* I'm with you, I prefer 1st person because I think its easier to get realistic emotions across.

Theresa is probably right. Write it in first and then go back and tweak things to change to 3rd?

Good luck!

Hart Johnson said...

I think the problem is there are LAYERS of voice and when you are in 3rd person, you need to have both the narrative voice AND the character(s) voice... and like ventriliquism, the reader shouldn't QUITE be able to tell, but should hear it enough that if you do a DIFFERENT character's voice, they can still hear YOU.

As you know, I started with fan fiction, and because of that, I stuck with the 3rd person limited that Rowling used, and I think it helped a LOT to start there because the transition the other direction is easier.

I've never written omniscient (mostly because it almost always bugs me to read--it interferes with me identifying with any one character--more passive, i guess), but I do do multiple PoVs (changing with section or chapter)

I read a recommendation recently about writing a scene or two in first person even if the book will be in 3rd for CHARACTER voice, but I think the only way to nail personal voice is to write. A. Lot.--the blog, the books, the stories... I think though, the blog is really nice because you are writing AS YOU, so you get to know what YOU sound like without 'being in character' if you will.

Carol Riggs said...

Sure...other writers have done it. Check popular ones and see what they've done, but I think Hart J is right--there's a subtle character voice in even the narrative. The events or narrative is seen THROUGH your MC's eyes, even if it isn't a direct thought. It still has a flavor, a voice. Sorta depends on how close of a narrative distance you have, however. Good luck!

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