Put Butt in Chair to Find Your Voice

Last year I took an online course with Writing Mastery Academy called Crafting Dynamic Characters. The instructor was Mary Kole, an editor.

One thing I’ve realized with Writing Mastery Academy courses is that they always end up being way more than I expected. The same can be said about Crafting Dynamic Characters. I thought it would be about filling out character profile sheets and such. It was so much more. Kole described the concept of “interiority” which she explained is the inner life of a character in a writer’s story.

Because Kole’s lectures are intellectual property, so I can only share a summary of how she fleshed out the interiority principles. She expounded on several ways to tease out the inner workings of a character. One of them was revealing character through voice.

Just to summarize, she explained voice depends upon the following: syntax, word choice, dialogue, tone and emotions. For each of these components, she gave examples from novels like Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan.

So, this past Saturday, Kole was a guest speaker for a writing webinar sponsored by Writing  Mastery Academy. I asked a question about voice: “Loved the “Crafting Dynamic Characters” course. I especially appreciated how you broke down the concept of “voice.” I liked the examples from novels you included. Can you mention any other authors you feel have a grasp of voice? Any other exercises you recommend beyond the ones in the course for developing this concept?”

Kole was kind enough to offer an answer with a more “teaching me how to fish” instead of just “giving me a fish.”

First off, instead of giving me more examples of authors who display good voice with their characters, she offered more practical advice:

“I do think voice is also genre dependent . . .  the mystery thriller suspense voice is going to be pretty different than the romantic comedy voice, for example.”

She then spent the next several minutes expanding on her thoughts about voice in fiction writing. I’ve capsulized some of what she said here:

  • If a writer wonders what point of view a novel or scene should be written in, she said to not “hypotheticalize” it, but to actually just write it so the writer can determine if his voice more effective in first person or third person. Butt in chair and just writing.
  • Ask critique partners which versions of a scene work better.
  • Reading your work aloud is again one of the most powerful exercises a writer can do.
  • In addition to being genre specific, voice is also scene specific and chapter specific.
  • Developing voice takes time. The more a writer practices and writes, the more he’ll be able to determine the best decisions for voice in his craft.
  • Read widely. Read as much as you can in your favorite genres and also outside of your favorite genres. Read writers you like and outside of them to discover new authors.

The next question by another person attending the webinar also dealt with voice. Kole offered an idea to help develop voice when their are more than one point of view characters: create separate documents and splice together the scenes from the same character together. A document with only character A’s point of view scenes, another for character B’s and so on. Focus on just one character’s scenes at a time.

I love this because, for my WIP, I’m already doing it in Scrivener’s Collections tool.

But, overall, Kole made me realize I have more control over developing voice in my writing. It comes down to studying other writers for myself, according to the kind of books I’m writing, and even outside of my genre.

And to just put butt in chair and write.

Mary Kole answered a lot of other questions on fiction craft for this webinar. If you are interested in seeing this and other webinars on writing, you might want to subscribe to the Writing Mastery Academy.

Kole’s course, Crafting Dynamic Characters, is available through Writing Mastery Academy. It is also available through Udemy.

Other places to find Mary Kole online:


Good Story Company

Photo by Nastia Ligrain: https://www.pexels.com/photo/chair-in-room-14557507/

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