Hearing Voices

January 22, 2011 at 11:24 pm (writing)

The last horror story I finished was a real challenge, and the problems were two-fold. It was a very disturbing topic, something that could potentially happen with no supernatural elements – I always find those harder to stomach – and it was written in first person narrative from the perspective of a child. Normally, I hate writing in first person. I don’t think I’m very good at it, and I don’t think that I necessarily do the narrator proper justice, but sometimes the stories demand it, so I grit my teeth and go.

I have a much easier time approaching a tale as observer. Part of the problem is language. I can usually (although not always – I’ve had my dismal failures) capture the voice of the characters in the dialogue. Fervor was a test of skill, because the characters were very unusual children and it takes some careful explaining as to why an 8-year old speaks like a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, but the 13-year-olds he’s with sound more like (although not exactly like) typical teens.

Accents can be difficult to master too, and sometimes I skip trying to reflect the accent in the dialogue and just note it in the description, like with my wandering barbarian, Traveller. As one of my test readers pointed out though, it’s best to try and find a way in tone or expression to really distinguish your characters in a story, so that there’s never any question as to who is speaking if you have no dialogue tags (my dialogue tags are an overused guilty pleasure.)

But back to first person – the hard part for me is not just the perspective, or capturing the voice, but that the voice is coming from inside the character’s head. You actually have to think like that character. That might come easily to some writers, but my brain fights the idea of regressing to the mind-set of a precocious 7-year-old child trapped in a very traumatic situation, or even worse, a particularly repulsive, villainous character who is bemoaning a well-deserved, but pretty horrific fate. It is a struggle to go against your better nature that wants you to keep a character like that at arm’s length, and in a way, it comes as no surprise to me that such a story elicited very mixed responses from my test readers.

I’m not one to shy from challenge, but I think my stories will remain, for the most part, third person. I just don’t like having to hear other people’s voices in my head.

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