Finding Your Voice: A Magical Words Panel
David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson, Faith Hunter, Misty Massey
MagicalWords.net is a website for readers and writers of fantasy that started in January 2008. Faith Hunter, David B. Coe (now also writing as D.B. Jackson), and Misty Massey all met at a convention and clicked, and the concept was born. Over the years they have brought in other writers and related folks. They have many regulars and guests. Enjoy another discussion with the founding members!
Voice: The most amorphous, the least easy to define, and yet probably the most necessary part of any kind of writing. Especially fantasy.
Voice is the distinctive tone, mood, and style that makes any particular piece of writing sound unique.
Voice in the dictionary: You will not find any reference to literary voice. This is a term that gets used in literary circles but doesn’t get used outside of that.
The term gets used in different ways by different people even within writing circles.
Types of Voice
Voice works on different levels, different kinds of voice. There are 3 major types:
Stylistic voice – Personal style and genre influences. Authorial voice (voice of author – can tell different betwen Faulkner and Hemingway – voice of author stands apart.); genre voice (an epic fantasy by Dbc and an urban fantasy by dbc red differently. Different subgenres. Supposed to be diff critters.)
Ambient voice – The mood of the world you’ve created and the book you’re writing. The Jane Yellowrock books read different from the Thorn St. Croix books. Partly because the worlds are different. The narratives are different. The characters are different.
Character voice – Particularly with 1 Point of View character. Character voice is the voice of your narrator, the way they express themselves or tell their story. If the POV skips around, you want different voice between each character, too.
FH: They blend so much, they’re hard to keep separate. Views voice because she writes first person, the voice types blend. Finding the break betwen things is harder to do in first person.
DBC: You as an author have a voice. Someone picking up your book recognizes it as your book.
Which books have influenced your voice?
MM: After reading The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, which was rich and powerful, in-depth and thrilling, she wanted to write something that made somebody feel the way that book made her feel. Also Michael Moorcock. Dark, bitter, angry, cold quest fantasy. She wrote the book she wanted to write. Not by following a commercial trend.
DBC: Steven R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books. Having read Tolkien it never occurred to him that a character could be dark, bitter, horrible, and still be worth rooting for. And then he read Guy Gavriel Kay and wanted to write like that. When we start, we have nothing to go on besides what we’ve read. But our own voices emerge that are our own unique compendiums of our taste and the writing styles of the books we’ve read. Then when he wrote Thieftaker, he started writing as D.B. Jackson, which was different from his work as David B. Coe. Thieftaker is historical urban fantasy, not epic fantasy. So he went for a different style.
MM: When writing Mad Kestrel, set at sea, she tried to use language that was rolling and moving, like something on a ship. Now she's writing something else set in Nebraska, and so is going for long and distant.
Audience comment: It felt that night and day in Thieftaker were written differently. There was a different voice at night.
Audience question: As you’re writing Chapter 1 of a new series, how much time do you need to invest in the new voice?
DBC: Starts a book, especially a first book in a new series, and finds upon completing a 400 page novel that the start needs to be rewritten the most. He takes time to find characters as he’s writing. Forstalls it by worldbuilding and writing short stories set in that universe. It's important to write stuff that doesn’t matter. Play with the world through short fiction is a fabulous way to start developing that ambience, that mood, for the larger work you’re going to write.
FH: Starts with first page and first line. Once she knows the character’s name and where she wants to go she’ll go back and work on it again and the voice is there.
MM: Doesn’t start with a short story. Loves playing with a world and getting it out in 20pgs or less.
DBC: Thieftaker was originally an alternate-world (epic) fantasy. Although it’s set in Colonial Boston, it has an otherworldly quality.
Audience question: How do you inject life in to something structurally sound that lacks it?
DBC: It helps to have great editors and beta readers. He put the book away because he wasn’t ready to make it the book he wanted it to be. Then he thought about how he could punch it up. How do you breathe life into something like this? He added action, showed the character in action. Made one change to first chapter and it was like a row of dominoes, and that broke him out of the stuff he thought that couldn’t be fixed. It changed his mindset.
Faith: She has to write the story she needed to write. Presented something her editor rejected in a different voice. It was a substantially different book. She was able to take what she wanted and what editor wanted and make a much better story.
Audience question: Character voice – what do you do to differentiate between different characters? Especially when they're from the same culture?
FH: Characters are not just one thing. Voice should be dependent on what your characters have gone through. Where do they come from, what are their histories, what have they lived through?
DBC: Point of view characters: You’re in their heads. It’s not just about dialects or language, you have to get into emotion. Ethan Kaille is broken, and has a history of being broken. Characters are a product of who they are and where they’ve been. E.g. Schlomo the Kosher Vampire.
Audience comment: Faith has a great example of the different voices between Jane Yellowrock and Beast.
Faith: Beast develops vocabulary as she grows. And Jane recognizes her primitivity.
DBC: Jane in Book 6 is not the same as Jane in Book 1. Ethan in Book 4 is different from Ethan in Book 1.
MM: Kestrel, too. She doesn’t have the luxury of the immaturity she had as quartermaster when she becomes captain in Book 2.
DBC to MM: How did you prepare Kestrel as a character before writing the first book? What influenced you?
MM: Kestrel is a street orphan, and Misty knows her origins and background. She comes from the streets and having to survive on her own from such a young age. It hardened her, made her more streetwise and clever than average kid. She knows how to handle people. How to not be afraid of people. How to assess situations and fights, and whether or not she can get out of them. BUT Misty focused on communicating character rather than communicating the background details.
DBC to FH: You didn’t do much prep work with Jane Yellowrock, but that works with story because Jane has no memory.
FH: Yes, and it was a process of discovery. She couldn’t do prep work; if she had, she’d have shared it too early. She’s discovering Jane as she goes. As Jane discovers herself.
DBC: Ethan spends his time as a thieftaker recovering everything he’s lost.
Audience question: What are the benefits of Pantsing versus Outlining?
MM: Pantsing is really really hard. She had to learn how to outline, but it’s so much simpler to have a map. Not necessarily every single detail, but a basic roadmap.
DBC: Do you mean that characters take over, go where we don’t expect? (He re-outlines as he goes along because characters will surprise us with things we can’t anticipate. That doesn’t mean you should avoid having that narrative roadmap. Knowing where the next plot point is gives the characters more freedom.
FH: Writing an outline in the character’s voice told her what her weaknesses were and how to fix it. She solved a plot problem that worked for the character, and fixed it, and made it work for the character’s voice.