The Madness of Character Voice

The Madness of Character Voice

The Fault in Our Stars
The Fault in Our Stars (Photo credit: TheNerdDilettante)

I am about 16,000 words into the revisions of Stolentime. I’ve got self-doubts plaguing my brain, but I know that’s a normal part of revisions because in spite of knowing what needs to be changed, you still wonder if those changes are good enough, or could they be made better. But I’m not going to panic because the next step after this revision will be line edits, then proofreading on a hard copy, then making the changes on this Surface. Novels are malleable, critique is mandatory, so Stolentime has a chance. It will not die. I had these doubts with When Stars Rise, the sequel to When Stars Die, but the freelance editor loved parts of it, regardless. It just de-railed in the middle, but I’m more experienced and outlining can prevent that de-railing.

In any case, one interesting thing I’m noting throughout these revisions is how I keep slipping out of Gene’s voice. I am so used to writing stories that take place in the 19th century, so both narrative and speech are very formal, even for teenagers. Gene is a 21st century boy, self-aware and intelligent, so he doesn’t really slip into slang or does he speak like someone in Pride and Prejudice. For example, from the rough draft of Stolentime:

I was too busy picking at my nails as a tight feeling began blooming in my chest, realizing I hadn’t been out in a while due to my social anxiety.

One thing I realized as I was reading this sentence was that I slip away from Gene’s voice just by using the word ‘blooming.’ I’m not saying boys can’t use the word ‘blooming,’ but it’s not likely. So I had to chop this sentence up with an axe to come up with this:

I’m too busy picking at my nails as a tight feeling begins to expand in my chest over the realization that I haven’t been out in a while due to social anxiety.

Notice the tense shift too because I decided to bring Gene’s anxiety to the present instead of leaving it in the past to bring a more immediate feeling. But Gene is more likely to use expand than bloom. Since I am very much about the art of writing itself too, the sentence is still slightly formal because, well, Gene is intelligent. He’s a freaking smart kid who knows his literature, and so his thoughts and speech are going to be influenced by what he reads in literature. He’s definitely not Hazel from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (which, in my opinion as I’m currently reading it, is trying too hard to be philosophical), but he’s still a bright kid.

So I have to be constantly aware of Gene’s voice since I am so used to writing 19th century voices. It’s a bit difficult too, because there are times when I catch myself being formal, and then other times, when I re-read, I find sentences that are too formal and use words that are perhaps a bit too colorful for a 21st century kid.

Do you guys have any trouble with the voices of your characters?