An Australian author living in Norway

Vocal challenges

My current work in progress is proving quite a challenge, and one of the key reasons for this is voice. When I mentioned my struggles to a friend recently, he said he could always recognise my voice in my writing, and that when he reads my work, he hears my voice in his head. I tried to explain this wasn’t quite what I meant, but I realised he had a point. I began to wonder if it is actually possible to separate the writer from the writing.

Amaranth is written in the first person, and the narrator is a nineteen year old girl named Eva. If I’m honest with myself, Eva’s narrative voice is very close to my own internal narrative; I wrote her much the same way I would write myself. She has a dry, dark sense of humour, is given to pessimism (and melodrama) and can be quite caustic. It was quite easy to write from her perspective.

However, the next book in the series is written from a different character’s perspective, and though she is also a girl in her late teens, she is a very different character to Eva. She’s bright, bubbly, mischievous and though she has a dark past, she refuses to let it get her down. It was a complete shift in gears for me, and I’m glad I took the time to write some short stories in between novels so that I could cleanse my palate of Eva, as much as is possible anyway, given the points I made above.

The interesting part is that two chapters in, though I’m struggling to keep the new voice authentic through word choice and structure, I’m finding the best thing I can do is to adopt her mindset. Method writing, perhaps? In order to know instinctively how she would react and what she would say in any given situation, I need to think like she would. I’ve found it rather therapeutic to shift my brain into nothing-gets-me-down girl; I’ve stopped for a break a number of times and found that I’ve been unconsciously smiling.

Reading back through the chapters I’ve written so far, I have managed to create a distinctly different voice for this novel, and yet my writing voice is still in there. Perhaps there are writers in the world who are true chameleons and can write in a completely different voice from book to book, but I am not quite there yet. And yet… I’m not sure I want to be. Not entirely. When I pick up a book by a favourite author, I want to hear his or her voice in there somewhere. It’s like a trademark. No, on second thoughts, it’s more subtle than that. It’s more of a watermark. Something at the nucleus of the writing that stamps it as theirs, and without it, I wouldn’t be able to trust the unfamiliar book to deliver what I liked about previous works.

Ideally, I want to find a balance. I hope that at some point my work will have fans who don’t know me personally, and don’t know what my real-life voice sounds like. For those people, I would hope to create something new and engaging each time, but with an intangible familiarity that allows them to trust that they’re going to get a healthy dose of what I do, no matter who the characters are, what they achieve or where I take them.


  1. Robert Peett

    I think there are two aspects to ‘voice’. There is the authorial voice, which is about an overall attitude and to an extent phrasing, timing, rhythm and so on. It seems to me that you have that quite strongly, and this is evident in the stories and even in your blog entries. Then there is the character voice, especially when you write in the first person (which does seem to come naturally to you). Here the key is about using aspects of yourself – even buried aspects or traits you aspire to! – emphasising and giving them free rein. Sometimes it is about empathising strongly with someone even if he or she is very different from you, but always there has to be some thread within you. In ‘What I’m Made Of’ you write in the first person as a young boy; partially you are empathising and, as you said, there is an element of you empathising with your daughter in the future; yet some of his feelings and perspective on the world must be within you and you have to put the dominant ego aside to allow it out. And putting the dominant ego aside is crucial to fiction writing.

    All of this then seems to me linked to universalising – or at least, connecting with many people. By getting those voices without resorting to a set of tricks (some beloved of the teachers of writing) or a kind of shallow mimicry, you make it possible for others to connect. I certainly connect with the boy in that story, but I also find myself within the character of Nicky in Sweet Alyssum – and even the shut-in! And I am not a cat person….

  2. John

    This article made me think about a piece I wrote.  Initially it was very much my own authorial voice, but with growing feedback I developed more of what readers seemed to enjoy and comment on and also changed the voice quite deliberately to eradicate some of my natural ‘voice’.  My natural voice often blends in formal and modern language, but the piece developed into such a formal offering that one reader said it reminded them of something written perhaps in colonial times, and another said it had an eighteenth century feel to it.  In the end it became almost an exercise in acting the new role I had adopted for the narrator, and interesting in that way.  Because it was developed from the earlier voice it wasn’t a complete chameleonesque performance.

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