Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lesson Nine: Listen to Your Voice

When I launched into this literary world, I couldn't give you a proper definition of "voice" in a novel. I figured it was something akin to the time-honored explanation of "what is pornography?": It is hard to define, but I know it when I see it. That view has changed.

Here's the explanation I give today: Voice is your creative side speaking through your characters, setting, pacing, dialogue and detail. Let me accent the part of that definition that needs it. Voice is YOUR creative side. You can't force yourself into creating a character or writing in a genre with which you aren't comfortable. So what if vampires are the big literary hook these days, or zombies? If you don't have Anne Rice's heart and mind and aren't interested in detailing vampires, don't go there.

Which brings me to my main character in the novel I just completed. His name is Daniel Pace. Nice, simple name. He has a simple day job, but he has made extraordinary strides within that job. He has a history of violence. He isn't afraid to use violence now. OK, in many minds the name Jack Reacher just surfaced. Lee Child's creation is probably the most famous thriller hero out there. I won't go into detail about what separates Pace from Reacher, but there are many variations. (I will gladly talk about those differences with an agent or publishing house, however.) Those variations will take Pace far away from the Reacher story line. I am going to have fun detailing those variations and putting them up against bits of tension in later plots. Again, I won't go into detail, but I have the main story line for the third novel in the series as I continue to write the second Pace novel.

Of course, I have to talk about myself here because that character comes from my creative side. Those people who know me well know large parts of the Pace character are miles away from who I am. Violence? It's not my thing. I am the kind of guy who grabs a paper towel when my wife is spooked by a spider, picks up that spider and drops it outside. (Well, something like a black widow or brown recluse will become familiar with my boot heel, but a common house spider is spared.) However, I respect many of the attributes that lead to Pace's violent side, and I weave those attributes into Pace's character and plot line. If you read the first chapter of my first novel, you get certain insights into Pace. It is a short introduction to him, and the action follows in subsequent chapters.

I also deviate from some thriller writers in that the development of Pace's character won't be overpowered by action scene after action scene. I want to make Pace a real person caught up in this thriller world, not an automaton who surfaces to right the world's wrongs. He has a history that is separate from that violent side. There are things in his history that he wouldn't want others to know about, but readers will know about them about 80 percent of the way through the story line. He has a heart he guards carefully.

If I had to say why I came up with Pace as a main character, it is that I wish I knew the guy. He's an interesting fella. There are those attributes of his that I admire. There are those secrets. There are events I would love to sit down and listen to him give details. I would love to sit down and have a beer with him, but he's not a big beer drinker. Not much of a drinker of anything alcoholic.

Here's another part of my style I must mention in any discussion about voice. I have a history in journalism, and I can't shake that. Know what? I don't want to shake that. My writing style is very direct. This first novel in the series is 103,000 words only because complexities within the plot require it. I still get to the point in my storytelling.

I am reading "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn. It is a fantastic novel, but her style and mine are on separate sides of the spectrum. She takes a long time to detail her characters. I am 100 pages into the novel, and there are few parts of the main plot that she has unveiled. Her character development, however, is absolutely marvelous. I love the novel. She has ways of describing characters and little events in their lives, or little worries that surface, that are beautiful. It is one of those novels I can't wait to get back to reading. But Flynn and I walk down different paths in how we tell the story. I am much more plot-centric, but I leave room for character development.

I admit I have areas of creating voice I have to work on. It's part of the process, but like everything else in my literary efforts, I love being in that process.

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