Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Creating An Authentic Voice

One of the most difficult aspects of writing is creating a unique cast of characters. Part of that process is finding a distinct voice for each. Here are author Kenneth Weene’s thoughts on the subject. Welcome back to Book Blather, Ken.

 One aspect of good writing is developing voice. The voice of each character should be real and consistent. Each person should sound unique and the way they speak should make sense within their personal story. At the same time, characters who come from similar backgrounds should sound sufficiently similar to create a sense of the locale and character of that community.

The narrator’s voice also needs to be developed. I pride myself that the narrative voices I use vary from book to book. I try to make them consistent with the book content so that the descriptions don’t interrupt the flow of the language. One special case was Memoirs From the Asylum, in which I used two distinctive narrators—one a first-person character and the other a third-person uninvolved voice. It was imperative that the two narrators were very different. The first-person voice carries the disorder and anxiety of the mental hospital while the second, by his very un-involvement heightens the reader’s sense of observing as if looking through a microscope.

In Tales From the Dew Drop Inne, which was released in February, I strove to give Cal, the narrator, a Midwestern flatness that helps to provide an even ground for the personal stories of the various characters. Were Cal more emotive, his narration would detract from the humanness of those other characters, each of whom has his or her own voice. By the way, one trick I use in Tales is to give some of the characters distinctive wordings that help the reader to follow the action. For example, the bar’s owner, Sal, typically says “yous” and Sam stutters.

Currently, I am working on Red and White, a piece of historical fiction. The protagonist is a young Indian boy who is sent to one of the government Indian schools. One of the challenges in writing this story is the capturing of the Native American voice, particularly in the legends and prophesies that are an integral part of the story.

To face that challenge, I have been working on that voice. I have started writing some short stories in the voice I hope to use. These stories will not be part of Red and White; they are exercises that I am using to prepare for writing even as I do the historical research. In these exercises I have tried to capture the sound and flow of speech that my Native American friends, especially those who have stayed on the reservation, employ. 

Here is the beginning of that story:

Why we welcome crickets in our lodges

On the third day the moon of young elk, a stranger stood outside the circle of lodges of The People and called out, “People, bid me enter for I have brought you a great gift.” Three times he said this as was the custom, and he stood outside the circle of the lodges as was also the custom, and he waited for a response.

The oldest son of Great Owl, who was then chief, was sent to ask the stranger his name, his tribe, his clan, and his business. The stranger responded, “I am Walker of Miles from among The Strong People. In my tribe we do not speak of clans, for they are sacred, but I am allowed to tell you that I am not of the sky, the land, or the water.”

At those words, the young man ran from the stranger in fear, for if he was not from the sky, the earth, or the water, he must be from a clan of the spirit world and surely brought death.

Have I succeeded in creating a rich and authentic voice? I hope so. If you’d like to hear the rest of this story, listen to me tell it on SoundCloud. And please, let me know what you think. http://soundcloud.com/kenneth-weene/why-we-welcome-crickets-in-our 
If you’d like to learn more about my latest book, Tales From the Dew Drop Inne, visit http://mediasuite.multicastmedia.com/player.php?p=aat76pv9