Hearing Voices: Types of voices Part One

Hearing Voices: Types of voices Part One


Thanks to bensound.com for intro and outro music.

ASK THE AUTHOR: Jenny Snow wants to know (via Facebook): What about italics? How often should inner thought be italicized when writing third person?

AARON: This, I believe, falls more to each individual publisher. They will have a style guide they like to follow. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I typically avoid it. I’m not sure why. I think the reader is smart enough to follow what’s interior monologue and what isn’t. However, I have had some editors flag interior monologue as a slip in POV. So maybe it should be. I’ll defer to Pops on this.

AL: Italics are normal in fiction these days. It used to be confined to foreign words to indicated they were, well, foreign. Italics to indicate internal monologue and unspoken thoughts is common practice. True, you might run into a publishing house who doesn’t like them but that doesn’t matter. They’re easy to find and fix. So I suggest using them as needed. That being said, using the technique too often usually indicates poor writing. When you use them, do so sparingly and only if it brings something to the table. Don’t, for example, show an argument in which every statement is preceded by internal monologue. Use real dialogue. It’s almost always more powerful. If you don’t use italics for internal monologue, then you’ll have to use some kind of attribution: “he thought.” (Never, ever, “He thought to himself.” Who else would he think to?)

One last thing. Italics can also be used to indicate dialogue done over radio, or by telepathy, or something similar. For example, in my book Zero-G I have a ton of dialogue between the last two living members of a space shuttle crew and the people in the control room on Earth. That could be confusing so I all communication from the ground was set in italics to distinguish between things said by my protagonist and another crewman and flight control and later his family.

MOLLY: Editorially, I use italics in place of writing “He/she thought.” The fact that it’s already in italics shows it’s a thought, so it’s redundant to narrate the action as well. When writing in third person, I would advise omitting as much as possible. Third person POV basically sets your reader a bit outside the action, so to bring them into your character’s head with thoughts can be distracting. I suggest the great “show, don’t tell” method. If you feel your character’s thoughts are worth sharing throughout the story, you may want to change the POV to first person.

Firsts in Fiction


Voice is perhaps the trickiest aspect in fiction (TWEET). Most writers work for years to “find their voice.” At Antioch, we had a mentor who specialized in voice. At some point, every student took a semester with her if they were struggling with this.

Voice is the culmination of personal style. We can read sections of novels and know immediately who wrote it based on their voice. This includes vocabulary, the use (or nonuse) of adverbs and adjectives, the types of sentences and variety of sentence structures, etc. Most writers will find their “sweet spot” eventually, but it takes a while. We sing other people’s songs before we write our own (TWEET).

Al: If you compare writer’s voices used by Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ben Bova, to Spider Robinson, (All science fiction writers) you’ll see a wide variation in approach. Bradbury = borders on purple prose, ornate, lyrical; Asimov = direct, to the point; Bova = emphasis on the science and exploration; Robinson = good with humor, strong language. Think of Clancy, Cussler, Koontz, etc.

No one would confuse the writing of Thomas Wolfe with his contemporary Hemingway.

MJ: For this podcast, we’re discussing author voice, yes? Is there also character voice, and if so, does that fall into these categories as well, or is that a separate topic?

Al: Writers find their own voice; they give voice to characters.

There are several types of voices, though, that all writers use. We will usually rely on one more often than others, but many authors have their own favorites and move between these seamlessly and effectively. This week, we’re going to look at the different types of voices:

Writing voices: Natural, Chatter, Lyrical, Oratorical, Deconstructed (TWEET).

MJ: Are there certain voices which are better when spoken or read aloud, vs viewing on a page?

  • Natural Voice
    • Straightforward, everyday language.
    • Most popular voice, most popular novels primarily fall into this category.
      • J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye:
        If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
      • Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men:
        There might not of even been no money.
        That’s possible.
        But you don’t believe it.
        Bell thought about it. No, he said. Probably I don’t.
      • Richard Russo’s Straight Man: (Al: This is an example of first person pov use of character voice as author voice.)
        Truth be told, I’m not an easy man. I can be an entertaining one, though it’s been my experience that most people don’t want to be entertained. They want to be comforted. And, of course, my idea of entertaining might not be yours. I’m in complete agreement with all those people who say, regarding movies, “I just want to be entertained.” This populist position is much derided by my academic colleagues as simple-minded and unsophisticated, evidence of questionable analytical and critical acuity. But I agree with the premise, and I too just want to be entertained. That I am almost never entertained by what entertains other people who just want to be entertained doesn’t make us philosophically incompatible. It just means we shouldn’t go to movies together.
  • Chatter” (Sub-voice of Natural)

    • Heightened, high energy voice (any affected or colloquial—slang—use of language, whether gangsta or professorial)
      • Chuck Palahnuik’s Choke
        If you’re going to read this, don’t bother.
        After a couple of pages, you won’t want to be here. So forget it. Go away. Get out while you’re still in one piece.
        Save yourself.
        There has to be something better on television. Or since you have so much time on your hands, maybe you could take a night course. You could make something out of yourself. Treat yourself to a dinner out. Color your hair.
        You’re not getting any younger.
        What happens here is first going to *tick* you off. After that it gets worse and worse.
        What you’re getting here is a stupid story about a stupid little boy. A stupid true life story about nobody you’d ever want to meet. Picture this little spaz being about waist high with a handful of blond hair….
  • Deconstructed Voice
    • Fractured, unconventional, broken narrative
    • Missing scenes, missing punctuation
    • Structure has been taken apart and put together in another way for effect
      • David Markson’s Vanishing Point:
        Keats. Wondering aloud where Shakespeare was sitting when he wrote To be or not to be.
        Now and again, Picasso used the whitewashed walls of rented villas to sketch on. Once a landlord demanded fifty francs for a fresh coat of paint—Leaving for Picasso’s amusement years later the question of what the man had cost himself.
        I can’t listen to music too often. It makes you want to say stupid, nice things.
        Said Lenin.
      • Cormac McCarthy’s punctuation in No Country for Old Men:
        I aint never seen you there.
        How could you of seen me there if I aint never been there?
        I couldn’t. I was just saying I aint. I was agreein with you.
        Moss shook his head.
        They ate. He watched her.
        I reckon you’re on your way to California.
        How did you know that?
        That’s the direction you’re headed in.
        Well that’s where I’m going.


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