Whose Voice is it, Anyway?

Countless workshops, articles, and conversations on the topic of writing inevitably touch on the voice of one or more characters in a story.

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 (Piper) 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 Piper what she thinks.

“I am who I am,” she tells me. “You’ve got it right. Just keep going.” I know Piper 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. Piper 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 Piper’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 Piper all along, even when Piper wasn’t a very good friend to Laura.

So, Piper’s voice is a complicated one – even for an eleven year-old. I know Piper really well, and I feel confident that I have her voice just right. She told me so.

Character illustration of people holding speech bubbles

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Karleen Stevenson says:

    I agree with you! Also when a child suffers a loss they may only have adults near by and I assume she is an only child, so that she emulates adult behavior. I also heard at the one time that an only child or the eldest child in a family has a tendency to copy adult behavior as that is their only or primary social example.

    Possibly since so many children are in day care or in after school programs today as Maggie could have been they only have other children to to set behavior or intellectual patterns.

    Stick to your guns. Can’t Maggie be an exception to the rule in any case? We need more individuals not drones.


    1. Anne says:

      Thanks for your input. Yes, Maggie is not of the eleven year-old “norm.” I think that is a good thing, and I also think she has qualities that are admirable and worth emulating.


  2. hubitus says:

    There are two important issues here: 1-Charaters and their unique voices. 2-Feedback and what to do with it. If anyone knows Maggie it’s you. There are many young characters that seem older than their age, take the boy in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer for example. I find the tricky and interesting thing about feedback is that often readers can point out something that really is problematic but explain the problem inaccurately. In the end only you know the inner mechanism of your story and have to “translate” the feedback into your language. Know what I mean? Anyway, good luck! It sounds really interesting!


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