Editors talk frequently about the necessity of an author staying true to their own voice in expressing the voice of their main character; a definition of "voice" in this instance encompasses the word choice, sentence structure, cadence, vernacular, slang, idioms, quirks, and the poetry of speech that help to identify a character within a setting. To my mind "voice" also encompasses that which lies beneath the actual words a character expresses—namely, the emotions, motivations, doubts, desires, fears, hopes, and internal trajectory of the character. These are the elements of a "character" that will turn an "anyone" into a "someone"—a distinct individual with whom readers might identify and in whom readers will believe. "Voice," then, is not only a character's expression through speech and thought, but a characters' expression through actions, choices, and decisions. If we can be completely clear as to who our character is—how that character will behave in any situation, what that character believes in, what side that character will take in an emotional or physical challenge, and how that character will or will not evolve through each experience— then the voice of that character will resonate clearly and give humanity to that character, for all the good and the bad, the strengths and weaknesses, the triumphs and the doubts that infuse every one of us.
We are often encouraged, as we encourage others, to give voice, which means not only to actually say something when saying something seems called for, but it means participating in a larger dialogue, be it emotional, political, or societal in such a way that we are heard, we express, we take a stand. We don't necessarily achieve this with words; we do this with actions and decisions informed by what we feel to be right. And we can only express—and be true to—our voice if we are willing to meet ourselves truly. Our candid exploration of the "why?"s and "why not?"s behind our own decisions, choices and paths taken most assuredly will inform and nourish the "why?"s and "why not?"s of the characters we create. It can be a challenging road inside ourselves to find our own voices, but what can result is the creation of true characters about whom a reader will think, "Of course she'd say that!" or "Of course he'd feel that way." Whether it’s through speech, emotion, or action, it's all voice. And by honoring our own voices, by taking deep breaths of our own selves, we will find the means to give voice to--and breathe life into--our stories, our characters.
© emma d dryden, drydenbks llc