Reflection on Voice Week
Before this past week I’d never participated in Voice Week, and to be honest I kind of signed on to it on a whim. I mean hey, I’m a last-semester English student and I’m writing a novel and I’m trying to develop a mildly entertaining blog on the off-chance I ever get this novel published; I think I do plenty of writing already. But I’ve been dealing with a lot of insecurities with my book lately, probably because I’m entering one of the final stages of writing, the “showing it to real people” phase. So to get a better grasp of where I am there, I decided to test myself using Voice Week.
Now, this is not the first novel I’ve ever written. It is the first Good Book I’ve ever written. The only one where as I read it I have a glimmer of hope of being published. But because it’s the first Good Book, writing it is kind of like swimming without knowing which way is up… in the dark. When I finished my first draft I thought it was flawless, but by now it’s a wholly different creature. It kind of has a life of its own, which thrills me and terrifies me at the same time.
Because it’s my first Good Book, my confidence in it comes and goes. Every time I sit down to work I walk away with new questions: Is the action I write physically possible? Are my characters dynamic enough? Does my plot make sense? And Christina’s Most Frequently-Stressed Wonder of Do I even know my characters at all? In some scenes I feel like the character is a part of me; in others I consider him to be a stranger whose every move surprises me.
Over the summer I started doing character developing exercises, many of which involve thinking about how your character handles different things: love, stress, loyalty, and so on. I have pages and pages of handwritten lists, like this:
Alexandra: wakes up pleasant, rarely has dreams. Dresses first – Does not leave room in nightgown. Then folds nightgown and puts away, braids hair, and puts on shoes and socks.
You see? That was my “first hour of a typical day” character development exercise. (By the way, I found dozens of great exercises by googling “character development.”) But it’s so one-sided to analyze a character this way; you miss on their perceptions and interpretations of the world around them.
It’s so much better to get in the character’s head, and to write as if you are them. Let them take you through their version of the story. When you sit down with only a hundred words and try to figure out what this person would say if they only had so many – that’s how you come to know a character. And once you’re familiar with a character, they more or less write themselves. It’s a beautifully nullifying sensation.
During Voice Week I learned a lot about my characters. I chose to write about a scene which my protagonist, Alexandra, is not in. Sometimes I feel like I know Alexandra too well; I have written a thousand pages inside her head and spent much time learning what kind of a person she is. But many of my other characters, I fell like I’m still making all of their decisions for them, when they should be capable of writing their own scenes by now. I wrote in Voice Week to see if I truly knew them or if I was struggling to write characters that aren’t true.
In the end, I found that I mostly knew my characters, but had written some major misrepresentations of their emotions.
For example, this week I learned that Dominic feels guilty about what happened to Molly. I never touch on that fact in the story; I believed Dom was too logical to get wrapped up in guilt, or to place such a thing in himself when we all know he couldn’t have done anything to stop it. But his and Amos’ loyalty to each other is so intense that Dom bears guilt on many levels about the situation – that he was the instigator, that he shouted, and that he was on the rope when Molly went down.
This week I learned that Rachel and Molly were not close before Molly died, where in my current manuscript I claim the opposite: that they were close friends. But I realized through Rachel’s eyes of that night that they really hadn’t had the time to be friends, but they liked each other. Everyone loves Rachel, after all.
What I’ve learned from Voice Week is that Voice Week totally kicks ass. This is how to develop a character: Get in their head. Steal their voice. Make sure the character leads you, not the other way around.
Thanks to Stephanie at http://bekindrewrite.com/ for hosting Voice Week, and please go check out all the awesome voices that participated! They all live here: