Sunday, March 11, 2007

voices and alternatives

Voice is such a difficult quality to establish for any main character, and is usually the first task a writer considers in making his story come alive on the page—and be marketable. Some writers might seize on direct qualities, like regional dialect, or notable class distinction in the character’s diction, to create a unique and interesting voice. Others might use introverted or extroverted modes of expressing their character’s speech—hesitant, thoughtful, fearful; or blustering, assertive, combative.

Still others may bag the whole exercise of creating a compelling voice, and instead give their character some challenging condition that will create interest in them as a character. This may be more hazardous to the writer’s success than finding a distinctive voice, since the writing must now also avoid any unearned praise, or blame, for the character solely because of their given condition. The writer must be very good to succeed at this type of story, and some have been. Two YA books that come to mind include:

Stoner & Spaz, by Ron Koertge
A H.S. boy with Multiple Sclerosis falls in love with a girl who uses and deals drugs. It’s an epiphany for the boy, and he also becomes interested in filmmaking. The romance ends, the girl goes back to drugs, but the boy is a better person for the experience.

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time, by Mark Haddon
An autistic teenager decides to find the murderer of a neighbor’s dog and discovers his father killed it and it leads to the uncovering of the mystery of why his mother left home. The author inserts lots of graphics and scientific puzzles to dramatize the teenager’s inner world and interests.

But the challenging condition might be made a lot less severe than in those cases, as in the following YA book I’ve just read:

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
The main character is a HS senior who’d grown up as a child prodigy. He doesn’t have much of a voice, and his introverted, nerdy condition is definitely an added challenge. Some nineteen girls have dumped him through the years, and all were named Katherine. He goes on a summer road trip with his best friend (he’s half-Jewish, the friend is Arab), and through much of the story he works on developing a theorem, shown in mathematical curves, that will predict whether the partner in any relationship will be the dumper, or dumpee. During his road trip he meets an opposite temperament—extroverted—Tennessee girl in a backwater setting, and redemption is at hand.

Voices and Alternatives—both equally challenging.


Bruce said...

It might prove interesting to consider how character conditions might influence voice... as well as the perspective that a character shares through that voice with a reader. For instance, the different way an Irish laborer might describe a scene vs an Ivy League-educated lawyer. Different characters. Different circumstances. And, of course, different voices...and different perspectives.

Jack said...

I had to smile at your example, Bruce; you'd definitely get some contrasts in voice between those two.

Creative Commons License
Fiction Writer's Blog by Gaelwriter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.