POV, Voice and the Dangers of Writing Rules

When I first started writing, I had a voice. It was, perhaps, a mimic of Jane Austen and at times J. R. R. Tolkien, but it had some flavor. Then I started taking classes and reading books about writing craft. I discovered that most of my writing was wrong. I used adverbs, dialogue tags, adjectives, words ending in ing, etc. I also head hopped, which is arbitrarily changing points of view, though I felt like I was changing points of view with purpose.

I’ve spent many years cleaning up my act and learning to write properly and have come to a point where my voice is so sterile that I don’t think I have one at all. Somewhere along the way I decided that I should stick to writing in third person limited, which means I don’t want everything to be in the main character’s voice but it might as well be because everything has to be exactly how he/she would view it.

The sinking feeling of blandness came to me at the beginning of this year when I was working on a novel set in my Silver World and a novella set in the gambling fairies and dragons world. Both are in third person limited. The worlds are so unlike each other that the writing style should’ve been unique for each, but I didn’t feel like it was. I felt the pattern of my sentences and possibly my word use had become repetitious. My fears were confirmed when I got Julie’s editing notes for Fairy of Hearts back: I’d used the word “look” so often that she’d created a hashtag for every time I used it, #lookyloo. I laughed; I cried. How could I have not caught that in any of my read throughs?

The Silver World novel was also dinged recently for voice in my crit group. The commenter said that sometimes it sounded like the main character and sometimes it sounded like a much older woman. I’m sure it sounded like the same voice I used in Fairy of Hearts even though Fairy of Hearts is about a twenty-something woman and the novel is about an 18-year-old boy.

I don’t feel the same way about my short stories. For the most part, I think I’m able to pull off a unique voice for each of those―the voice in Pixie Plague is much different then Zeitgeist. I think I’m willing to take more chances with short stories, and I think that’s the wrong attitude to have.

I checked out some books on voice last week and one said, “The narrator is allowed to have an opinion.” That blew me away. When I first started working in my Silver World, the narrator had an opinion, and I really liked that about the story. It gave it flare. But it also meant it was pulled away from third person limited. I think I’m going to take a chance and go back to a more knowledgeable narrator for the Silver World. I’ve spent years and years building that world, and I want the audience to see the vastness of it. I want part of the appeal to be the world, not just the actions surrounding the main character. The Fairy of Hearts world I might need to change to first person, but maybe not. Fairy of Hearts is my project this week, so I’ll let you know what I decide.

I think my point is not to stress so much about the rules that you lose your own voice along the way. Though an author may use a different narrator for each story, I think there’s always a glimmer of the author in the story, and that glimmer is what makes a story enjoyable.

3 thoughts on “POV, Voice and the Dangers of Writing Rules

  1. Bravo and well said, Melinda! A few years ago I had a MG MS evaluated. I was given a lot of suggestions and advice that helped make it a stronger story. The one thing she said to me that has carried through was this – when you revise, don’t lose your wonderful voice. It is hard sometimes to follow the rules, hoping to catch an agent’s eye and still tell the story you want to tell. But that IS why we write and why we love the stories that we love.

  2. The writers who have the loudest voices have style, not necessarily perfect grammar structure. When a writer is writing naturally, and not under some book of rules, that’s when I’m entertained, whether fiction or non-fiction.

    Some writers bore me and mainly it’s because they don’t really have anything to share but writing. Hell, anyone can study grammar and share correct text, but not everyone can tell an entertaining story. It’s definitely in the voice.

  3. Absolutely agree, Melinda. Sometimes great writing is all about breaking a few rules. Let’s make our own rules and hopefully sell some stories (and books) in the process.