Who Are the Voices in Your Head?

April 8, 2011

I know a lot of people who would like to be published writers. Most of them are intelligent, articulate people who actually have something worthwhile to say, and although they can say it in conversation, they’re often intimidated by an empty piece of paper or blank page on a computer screen. They’ll tell me, “I’m just not a good writer!” or “I don’t know how to get it down on paper.”

It always surprises me when I hear this because for most non-fiction writing the answer is pretty basic: write as if you were talking to your reader. Although that’s a somewhat simplified statement, the truth is it works. Know your audience, and write as if you were speaking to them.

When it comes to fiction however, the rules change. Although you have to find your writing voice, you also have to let your character’s individual voices come through. It’s no longer just you and the reader sitting down and having a simple conversation. All of those people in your head have something to say.

It’s an amazing feeling when you hear that character’s voice speaking and though it’s in your head, it’s not your voice. You and your characters may have a different vocabulary, speaking pattern and thought process. They may say things that you would never consider saying.

Personally, I rarely swear. I’m a big girl and can handle it when other people do, but it’s just not my style. In fact, my favorite parenting rule is “Say something dirty? Clean something dirty.” I figured I would either have very polite boys or a really clean house!

But in my stories there are characters who do swear, and if I try to control what they say, they won’t be real. When my pen hits the paper these days, I am no longer having a conversation with my reader. I’m hoping that my character’s are compelling enough to draw them into another world.

So what about you? Are there voices in your head besides your own? What do they have to say?

5 Responses to “Who Are the Voices in Your Head?”

  1. bakebooks Says:

    That is comforting to hear the “write as you speak” idea. I often get so overwhelmed and expect it to be perfect.

    The biggest dilemma for me right now is what to write. I have so many different ideas. But, clearly they need to be specific – proposals, manuscripts, contents – then I get overwhelmed even more. I think I put more pressure on myself because truly writing is my passion and I hate my “day” job. I am on the verge of quitting – I would love more time to write – but how do I that when I have bills to pay? Loans to pay? I have to live! But my job puts me further in a depression and time strain, that I don’t have the energy or mental focus at the end of the day it seems.

    Any advice would be loved. Beautiful site – I found you through Harlequin(once again looking at Submission Guidelines – for a book that I don’t even know to write yet! 😦 )

    • Hi, bakebooks!

      We’re glad you found us. Harlequin has a wonderful sight with lots of information to help aspiring romance novelists.

      It’s easy to get overwhelmed. I’ve been at this writing thing for years now, and there are days when I still feel like I’m wasting my time.

      But like you, I love to write, and that love keeps me going back for more.

      What do you like to read? It’s not an easy question, because it’s possible you haven’t found it yet. 🙂 I used to think I was destined to write 100K-word single titles, but then I bought a category on my iPad out of curiousity, and I started wondering…

      I write short by nature. Every single ms I’ve ever written comes in at about 60K-word. I would then spend MONTHS pushing the word count up to the 100K mark. Torture. Category seems to fit my natural rhythm.

      So I kept reading more category and trying out different lines. While I still have a ways to go before I can say I’ve read them all enough to have a good handle on who wants what, I’m comfortable that my current writing style suits Desire. (I used to think it was Blaze, but as the books spiced up, I blushed enough to question my suitablility.)

      Anyhow, when you hate your day job, writing is even more critical to balance you out. So find the time to do write–not for the money, but for your sanity–even if it’s just in little bits. (That’s a blog post right there.)


  2. Tari,

    You make such a great point! I never thought about how writing non-fiction conditions us to talk directly to the audience in our own voice without needing to worry about the characters’ voices.

    I picked up a Susan Elizabeth Phillips books last noght after finishing yet another Desire, and my first thought was: “Man, how does she keep the character voices straight?” (SEP writes from multiple character POVs in her books, while I write from H&H.)

    And what you said about swearing is so spot on! I’ve had male characters who light up the pages with F-bombs and JC’s, and I cringe. I go back and forth on censoring myself. When writing for a particular line, though, harsh language may not be permitted, so it takes the debate out of my head, and I can remove the offending words without worrying about my voice trumping the character’s voice.

    There is so much to think about! It’s a wonder we ever get mss finished.


  3. Tari Says:

    Hi Bakebooks…I think we often overwhelm ourselves with too much pressure, and the feeling that we have to write “great literature”. The truth is that all of the classic literature that we read was written in the voice of that time. We need to relax, and ease up on ourselves a little bit.

    I second what Elley said….check out the harlequin.com site for writing, and join a good writing group in your area….consider Romance Writer’s of America. It really doesn’t matter what you want to write, you’ll learn a lot there, and network with some great published writers, maybe even find a mentor!!

  4. Tari Says:

    Elly, so glad I’m not alone in all of this!! Sometimes I drive myself crazy worrying about language, keeping voices straight….why do I love doing this?

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