Friday 30 November 2018

Finding Your Voice

By Em Lynas

Picture by Geoff Lynas
I have second book syndrome. I'm afraid that the voice of my next character driven book will have the same voice as my last character driven book. Daisy Wart's voice is so big and dramatic and opinionated that she's taken over my mind. I need to shush her and let other voices in. So I've been re-reading my VOICE mentor texts.

Reading these texts is like a wine tasting - I get - opinions, personality, syntax, tone etc. I’m just giving you a flavour of a few of my favourite voices. First up for tasting:

Georgina Nicholson in Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging, by Louise Rennison.  

"I am fourteen years old, Uncle Eddie! I am bursting with womanhood. I wear a bra! OK, it's a bit on the loose side and does ride up round my neck if I run for the bus... But the womanly potential is there, you bald coot!"

I'm getting - big personality, loud, opinionated, comic, irreverent.

Use of Language:
The language is spot on teen plus there's the technique of adding a suffix to a noun. E.g. "I would like a proper amount of breastiness."

Bertie Wooster in The Mating Season by P.G Wodehouse.

"While I would not go so far, perhaps, as to describe the heart as actually leaden, I must confess that on the eve of starting to do my bit of time at Deverill Hall I was definitely short on chirpiness."

I'm getting- humour, a people pleaser and victim.

Use of Language: Wodehouse turns the ordinary into the extraordinary making us think and take part in the story with his use of analogy and metaphor.
Ordinary adjectives are replaced with amusing adjectives. E.g. "I mentioned this to Jeeves and he agreed that the set up could have been juicier." Juicier is so much more fun to say than better.
There's exaggeration e.g. "My Aunt Agatha, the one who chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth."

Mattie Ross in True Grit by Charles Portiss

“People do not give it credence that a fourteen year old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.”

I’m getting – unusual character, resilient, determined, an honest person with a strong sense of justice and fair play.

Use of Language: The book (and film which is true to the book) has an amazing voice that comes partly from the lack of contractions in the dialogue and prose (because it’s Mattie narrating) but also because the vocabulary is limited, there’s very little description and it reads like a list of facts and statements. E.g. “Tom Chaney said he was from Louisiana. He was a short man with cruel features. I will tell more about his face later. He carried a Henry rifle. He was a bachelor about twenty five years of age.”

I have other mentor texts but my favourite voice at the moment is -

Flora in Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.

Not just Flora’s voice but everyone’s voice. Every character  in this book has strong opinions on every other character, their world, and the unfairness of Robert Poste’s child (Flora) turning up to (they suspect) claim her inheritance.

There are echoes of Wodehouse which is always a treat.
“Have you a plane, Charles? I don’t think an embryo parson should have a plane. What breed is it?”

These are just some of my favourite bits that delve into character.

Flora has decided to live with relatives rather than work for a living and the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm are the only ones available.

Flora on – not working: “Well, when I am fifty-three or so I would like to write a novel as good as Persuasion, but with a modern setting, of course. For the next thirty years or so I shall be collecting material for it. If anyone asks me what I work at, I shall say ‘Collecting Material’.

Flora on – going to live with the Starkadders - “On the whole, I dislike my fellow-beings; I find them difficult to understand. But I have a tidy mind and untidy lives irritate me. Also, they are uncivilized.”  

Flora on Amos – He was encased in black fustian which made his legs and arms look like drainpipes, and he wore a hard little felt hat. Flora supposed that some people would say that he walked in a lurid, smoky hell of his own religious torment. In any case he was a rude old man.

Seth on women – “Women are all alike – aye fussin’ over their fal-lals and bedazing a man’s eyes, when all they really want is man’s blood and his heart out of his body and his soul and his pride…”

There is so much to mention, too much for a blog, and I'm still analyzing for techniques, but these are a few of the things that hooked me. 

I love that the Starkadders call Flora, Robert Poste’s child, throughout the book. I love that Aunt Ada Doom doesn’t come out of her bedroom because, “I saw something nasty in the woodshed.” I love that the cows are called Graceless, Pointless, Feckless and Aimless which sets the tone so well for the condition of the farm and animals. I love that Seth goes mollocking and I don't know what that means but I can have a good guess. (I have looked that up and my guess was confirmed.)

I love so much in this book. If you haven’t read it yet just read this last bit (too long to type!) and you’ll be hooked too.

Happy reading!

See part 2 of Finding Your Voice here 

Em Lynas is the author of the Witch School Series published by Nosy Crow


  1. Wow, this post is superb! Thank you so much. I too am working on voice for my next novel. I'd really like to hear more. Can you write a part two?

  2. This whole blog has gone straight into my advice file in the Creative folder! You were one of my first mentors, Maureen, and you're so generously still giving. I think it's a brilliant idea to have a Voice collection to build upon (and will immediately start one of my own). Ta once again! And very best of luck with the new character.

    1. Aw, thanks, Rowena. What a lovely thing to say. I'm really pleased you find my posts useful. And I live that you've joined the ranks of the published and nominated! I thought Goose Road was excellent.


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