Whose Voice is it, Anyway?
By Anne Hawkinson
Big or small, loud or soft, the list is practically endless. Bottom line is, every character has to have one or you have no way to tell them apart from the other characters in your story or they end up being a non-entity – some wisp of grey matter that slips away on the breeze.
Aside from my giving my characters a voice, I have to filter through the advice and opinions of fellow writers, members of my critique group, and my editor. They all have an opinion on how my characters should sound (and act, as a result). At the present, my main character (Maggie) is “under fire.” They think she’s too sophisticated for an eleven-year-old. “Her voice is too grown up.” “Would an eleven-year-old really say that?” “Her voice doesn’t sound like an eleven year-old’s.” I listen to it all, remain open-minded, and then I ask Maggie what she thinks.
“I am who I am,” she tells me. “You’ve got it right. Just keep going.” I know Maggie really well, and she’s not your typical eleven-year-old. She’s bright, creative, imaginative, and had the good fortune to have really dedicated parents who read to her, showed her the bits of the world that they could, and cultured/challenged her mind and intellect.
She’s also had to grow up sooner than most kids her age. Her dad died a few months before her eleventh birthday. Shot and killed in the line of duty. Maggie was an only child, and certainly “Daddy’s girl.” Part of her innocence, her child-like persona died that day with him. Actions and situations that she would normally partake in or get excited about seem trivial and “baby-ish” to her now. Friends fell away because they didn’t know what to do or say because Maggie’s priorities were not the same as theirs anymore. She’d be isolated and alone if it weren’t for her best friend, Laura. Laura’s been there for Maggie all along, even when Maggie wasn’t a very good friend to Laura.
So, Maggie’s voice is a complicated one – even for an eleven-year-old. I know Maggie really well, and I feel confident that I have her voice just right. She told me so.