Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Exercising the voice muscles

I've been trying to strengthen the voice in McBride's Eight, my hard scifi novel, for the last few weeks. I posted a sample of the process over at Unicorn Bell. When I wrote it I didn't want to get into the characters' heads much. It's been a couple years and my opinion has shifted a bit.

Not much point in using third person limited for the narration if I'm going to stay outside the characters' heads. Might as well let the narrator be more omniscient and put that narrative distance to good use. But I didn't.

So I've been pondering how to differentiate voices within the general style that I use for science fiction. I do, definitely, have some genre-specific style habits for better or for worse...

Here's one: when a sentence has the same subject as the previous sentence, I drop the subject. Shen cracked open a fresh bottle of vodka. Poured himself a drink. There's a dozen correct ways to communicate those actions, of course, and a few dozen incorrect ways. That's how I do it in science fiction.

I also tend to drop articles at the beginning of a sentence. Barkeep would give him the friends rate, no worries. Bottle of Gunner's wasn't pricy anycase.

Kate, over in my fantasy series Disciple, would say something like I hefted the brandy carafe and tore the wax seal off; the unleashed fumes stung my eyes as I poured out a cupful. Shen would be on his second shot by the time Kate finished all of that. (It's amusing to imagine them sitting at a bar together drinking -- I wonder what they'd make of each other.)

Some people find my scifi style choppy or otherwise hard to read. Some betas have called it "twitterspeak," which may well be why I see words being dropped from sentences in the future. They're extra characters, and English is heavily dependent on context for its meaning anyways.

So how to separate out more than one voice?

Lena scanned the rack of vodka behind the bartender and spotted the Grey Nebula bottle. "Grey on ice," she said, pointing. Nice stuff -- that was champagne for someone on a beer budget. Day would come when she couldn't afford it anymore. 

Chickie ordered Nebula as Shen topped his shot off. Cute chickie. Vodka sloshed over the rim of his shot glass because he wasn't watching. He hissed a curse and she glanced his way. Damn.

Sentence structure. Word choice. A codehead with a formal education and a more "civilized" past narrates differently than some skank booter who grew up on a scrap heap and lost a few years as an indentured slave. (Sorry, Shen, they would've found out about that sooner or later.) They have similar accents, as it were, but his is thicker, coarser... more blunt. High class vs. low class. Even in the future, those will still exist.

How do you decide what the accent is...? Well, that's tougher to put your finger on. A post for another time.

Have you been wrestling with narrative voice lately?

2 comments:

Wm. L. Hahn said...

Hi Louise, I have indeed been wrestling with narrative voice, for about eighteen months. And losing. But it's still fun. My female protag (heroic fantasy) is a seer, so her sense of time is pretty flimsy, and it's second person with a kind of accusatory flavor coming in and out (like the occasional sentence of "that's just like you"). It's been a very tough challenge, but the beta-readers seem to adjust and like it well enough. Onward.

L. Blankenship said...

I think you get extra leeway for wrestling with something as difficult as second person! Bravo for tackling it.

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