POV and Voice


L asks: “Do you think an author’s ‘voice’ is easier to establish when a novel is written in 3rd POV omniscient than in 1st POV?

Just asking because in the writing of my current WIP novel, I felt that I had to find and stick with the MC’s voice, and now in the polishing – revising stage I find that my ‘voice’ comes in from time to time- I think. Mostly in some of the narration- where I’m trying to balance the ‘tone of voice’”

Author’s voice”

I’m not sure what you mean by “author’s voice.” Do you mean the narrator of the novel? If there’s a narrator, s/he can have a voice that comes through, showing some personality, too. But usually, it’s clear that there is a separate person as a narrator.

I think, instead, though, that you are referring to the overall voice of a novel or short story. Voice refers to the overall effect of the writing in the story, that lets the reader know something about the personality behind the writing. Authors vary this voice for each story or novel or book. And part of what you are talking about is consistency of that voice. You’re finding difficulty knowing how to self-edit for consistency: would that be an accurate summary of the problem?

Main Character’s Voice

Writing in the voice of the main character is one common way to approach the voice of a novel. It sounds like you’ve found ways to make this novel very personal to the main character. That’s good. If you choose to write in 1st person POV, then it should be a distinctive voice, never heard before. Quirky tics, individual vocabulary and phrasing, an opinion about everything.

This voice would need to come through in the dialogue, narration, action–everything in the novel or story. It establishes the “tone of voice,” which I look at as the narrator’s attitudes toward everything.

It’s interesting that you say “my voice comes through.” By that, I assume you mean that your natural way of talking/writing and your attitudes? If so, then, take yourself out of the Main Character’s story. It should all be filtered through the lens of the MC.

But I wonder about the “tone of voice” that worries you. Are you trying to establish a certain feeling or mood in the novel? Or a certain attitude towards something?

All of this demonstrates the difficulty of talking about novel revision! What is voice? What is tone of voice? How do we distinguish between them when they are so enmeshed in the words we’ve chosen? How do we edit for voice consistency? I’ve been trying to talk about this on the Voice Friday postings, but it’s not clear cut as we’d like it to be.

1st v. 3rd POV

1st person is such a common choice for novels today. At the recent Phoenix Novel Revision Retreat, 14 out of 20 people were writing their novels in 1st person. I wonder why that is–any ideas?

I’ve always considered 1st person pov to be the second choice I consider for a novel. There needs to be a reason why it should be told in this person’s voice. Overall, in the mss I see, the 1st person stories tend to run together, without a distinctive voice. If you choose this option, my advice (and opinions vary widely) is to go way out and be wild, at least in the first draft. Make it wildly distinctive.

Third person omniscient is an odd choice, too for a novel, (though it works in Harry Potter) because the author can dip into any character’s head at any time. Usually readers want to identify with a novel’s character closely, and this head-hopping makes it harder. It does reveal motives of everyone across the story, so in that respect, you understand the novel better.

For my novels, I usually prefer a close third person in which the camera is firmly in my main character’s head. Events unfold with the character closely involved in everything.

I don’t think any POV is easier than any other. Some writers prefer 1st and find it more natural; others prefer 3rd. For me, it’s not a matter of which is easier, but which helps me tell this particular story, write this particular novel, in the more dramatic, tension-filled, emotional way.

L, I probably didn’t answer your question, because I needed you sitting beside me to ask for clarification.

But I think , this discussion points out two things: first, it shows that we all (myself included!) need better understanding of terminology of our craft. It’s frustrating that when I ask a group of 100 writers to describe the voice of a novel, we are all silent because we don’t have the vocabulary to do so. We have all been told that voice is so hard to describe, but an editor “knows it when s/he hears it.” That puts voice at the whim of our unreliable intuition, puts it out of our reach in revising our novels.

But there’s a second thing, too. Obviously, something is bothering you about sections of your revised novel and you’re right to be careful about it. Sometimes, putting a finger on what exactly is going on is hard–even when we do know the terminology. Writing stories and novels isn’t an “exact science,” but a craft; sometimes, understanding DOES comes in an intuitive moment. When I’m in a situation like this where I know something is wrong, but I don’t know what, there’s nothing to do but keep trying to figure it out and not let it slide. That doesn’t mean that intuition is the only tool I have to work on voice, though. I can approach it in a controlled way, while still allowing for intuition to show up and support the work I’ve done!

  • Clive
    July 31, 2007

    I think more people lean towards 1st person because they think it’s easier, plus, published books seem to be leaning towards 1st person at the moment. I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing – I’m not against 1st person – but there are interesting ways to implement 3rd person POV. However good the 1st person voice, it can be limited. 3rd person omniscient is not my favourite. 3rd person of the MC or a strict 3rd person of key characters, which I do not deem the same as omniscient.

  • Liz
    July 31, 2007

    WoW! Thank you – you’ve given me a lot to work on and work with. I’m going to print this out and get back to you with answers. =)

    As far as ‘author’s voice’ I was reflecting on a statement I read somewhere that readers can tell an author by their ‘voice’ so I was looking at my ms and wondering if the narration had a bit of ‘my’ voice.
    Just pondering.

  • darcy
    July 31, 2007


    Ah, I thought you might have some special meaning to the “author’s voice.” I do think that novelists have voice characteristics that you can recognize from novel to novel; it’s much like knowing Harrison’s Ford’s voice, even though he varies it somewhat for each character he plays. But even with that, there’s lots of variation in making this novel’s particular voice unique.


  • darcy
    July 31, 2007

    Clive–I prefer writing with a close 3rd person, too. I have done 1st, and it has felt right, but it’s not my first inclination when starting something new.