Is Authorial Voice Different From Character Voice?

This week’s video sheds light on the tricky subject of voice by using Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises to explain the differences between authorial voice and  character voice.

Video Transcription:

This whole idea of “voice” is something many authors struggle with, in part because they’re not always sure what “voice” means. Is voice something that remains the same in every one of an author’s projects, or is it something that changes from story to story? This is a question that causes a lot of confusion. Thankfully, however, we can find the answer in the writing of many authors who have gone before us.

One of those authors is Ernest Hemingway, who is famous (and sometimes infamous) for his definitive style. Hemingway’s terse authorial voice is so distinct that it’s one of the easiest to recognize. But that hardly means every one of his character narrators shared his authorial voice. In his early novel The Sun Also Rises, the first-person narrator Jake Barnes has a voice of his own—a voice that rings true to Hemingway’s own style, while still offering a completely unique sound.

How is this possible? How can an author convey both his own voice and that of his character? Sometimes an authorial voice is something we consciously produce, but usually it’s just a natural manifestation of our inner voices. Everything we write—whether we’re crafting a text message or trying to mimic a foreign dialect—naturally occurs in our own unique voice. Character voice, on the other hand, is something we craft with the needs of each specific character in mind, and so it varies a little—or sometimes a lot—from story to story. Understanding the differences between authorial and character voices goes a long way toward demystifying the general aura of voice.

Tell me your opinion: Do your characters’ voices sound different from yours?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. My characters all have their own unique voices, and over time I have discovered my voice as a writer.

    When I created the voices of my characters, I focused on their personalities and how they react in situtations. With my voice as an author, I didn’t create it. After years of writing, my voice just gradually appeared.

    It takes lots of writing to discover your voice, but eventually you’ll find it.

  2. Characters should definitely sound like themselves. The best writing leaves the author out of the story, yet still conveys the author’s unique voice. It sounds like a contradiction, but once you find your groove, your writing will be much stronger. And, perhaps someday, recognizable. Authors can write many books, all different, but the readers can pick one up and say, “That’s XX”

    Terry
    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery

  3. I think this clears up some confusion for me. My basic problem is my character’s voices seem much weaker than my own. I suppose getting deeper into my character’s heads would strengthen their voice – am I right?
    Thanks K.M.

  4. I find it very important to separate author and character voice. It’s usually not too hard to spot the stories of the same author (through their unique voice), but it wouldn’t be very good if all their MC’s sounded the same.

    Great topic!

  5. @Heather: I would encourage most authors to follow the same path you took. Work on the character voices, because your authorial voice will develop in its own time.

    @Terry: The plus side of all this is that writing characters with wildly different voices is oodles of fun.

    @Jan: Yep, go all out with your characters. You might want to try writing them in very different, even eccentric, voices. You may not keep the voices, but they should help you get a feel for writing in a voice that’s completely different from your own.

  6. @Tara: Exactly. Characters that all the sound the same grow boring quickly – for both writer and reader.

  7. When I realised I was getting bored writing, I knew it was because my characters lacked strong voices. When I made sure they could all stand on their own, mostly by going back and creating backstory, I was bored no more! 😀

  8. It’s remarkable how a snappy character voice can transform an entire story.

  9. Searching for your authorial voice is much like chasing your shadow. You can see it, but you can’t catch it.

    When a writer imitates another’s authorial voice, he or she can wind up, like Peter Pan, with a detached shadow that needs sewing back on.

  10. Good analogy. And, like our shadows, our voices manifest themselves without any purposeful intent on our part.

  11. REminds me of the Zen saying, “When you look into the mirror you are not the reflection, and yet the reflection is you.”

  12. It’s certianly easier to keep voices straight with my antagonist, because he has 180 degree view from me.

  13. I hadn’t thought about this before, but I can definitely see a difference between my own voice, which is consistent, and those of my characters, which I hope are consistent, but are definitely different to my own. So they should be, too!

  14. Ms. Albina says:

    Jewel in the novella has the voice of a teenager then in the story of Pearlyn, one of her daughter’s her voice is adult sounding.

    In Pearlyn’s story-Pearlyn has a teenage voice and Morgan who becomes Leilani’s father voice has changed from a high to a deep voice like dark chocolate.

    Do all characters need to have a trama that has happened to them in the past?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      A Ghost/Wounded in the character’s past is important for driving their motivation in believing the Lie that’s holding them back at the start of their character arc.

  15. Ms. Albina says:

    Okay, K.M. Leilani is afraid of sea spiders. Then how do you do a character interviews for mer-folk?

    I mean for me.

  16. Ms. Albina says:

    Okay, will do thank you.. I will use some of the interview questions. do any of your character so have nicknames
    I mean Missy for Marissa and so on.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Occasionally, if it’s appropriate for the story, I’ll let characters call other characters by nicknames.

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