In Caedmon’s Voice

I am taking Dean’s Advanced Depth class with a friend and we’re on the lecture on Voice openings. This is actually my third time dealing with this lecture, though just the second time officially.

The first time I didn’t send any homework to Dean because I didn’t have time to deal with it. I thought I would just watch the videos and try the homework for myself. You know, audit the course.

That time I came to the Voice assignment and my brain didn’t work. It fizzled and died, unable to picture any strong voices. It was as if I’d traded in my lively brain for one made of foam rubber. I suspect part of my problem with that was the lack of a deadline to get my homework in and the rest was all about fear of doing it wrong.

When I began the course the second time (this time officially) I knew I had to conquer that fear of Voice. So I found every strong character I could and tried to figure out how the writer did it. I checked out Archie Goodwin, whose deadpan noir delivery was filled with attitude and strong opinions. I looked at Stephanie Plum, hilarious and so New Jersey. Bubbles Yablonsky, another detective with a strong voice and viewpoint, this time from Lehigh, Pennsylvania. And who could leave out Slippery Jim Digriz, that lovable criminal from The Stainless Steel Rat?

These are all written first person. I realized that first person POV was the easy way to hear them and hear their voice. I don’t think that it’s required for strong characters. Bujold creates a strongly-voiced character in limited third person with Cazaril in The Curse of Chalion. But she doesn’t start out with a Voice opening, either.

This time when I hit this lecture I was ready for it. I’d practiced Voice openings with several stories I wrote for the 52 Week challenge. I knew the secret for me was not to try to get into the character’s head (though this is what it feels like to read these stories) but to pretend that a friend was telling me the story and not allowing me to interrupt.

I also knew that an easy shortcut to finding that friend’s voice was to use my actual friends or use someone whose conversation I could overhear. Or to find a sentence or a phrase from a character in a book.

I don’t need much. Just a few phrases that I can riff off. This time I found it in two things my friends said as we were discussing other topics. One mentioned that a statue in Ham House looked like Putin in a toga and she started calling him Roman Putin. The other was another friend’s habit of saying “Spoilers!” I took those and gave them to a character for the assignment. I added that to Ista’s beginning in Paladin of Souls (but gave the phrase a different meaning), “I’m not mad. Not anymore.” Those disparate items combined to give me a unique character voice.

As I thought about Voice openings last night, I realized that part of my problem with Caedmon is that I am overawed by him. I’m afraid to get close to him and his thoughts. He doesn’t talk much so there isn’t much I can show in the battle, either.

A solution to this might be to change this to first person POV and let him tell me the story in his own voice. By nature he is a taciturn man, careful and smart, more inclined to observe than to rush in. But if he were relating this story to his own mentor in strategy, how would he do it?

Getting a closer feel for how his mind processes the world would also give me a better sense of the battle itself, beyond the tactics that I’ve written. And if it doesn’t work, I’m not out anything but a smidgeon of time. So the plan is to write a Voice opening for Caedmon today. If it works, I’ll modify the rest of the story so that it comes through in his voice. If it doesn’t work I’ll use a more conventional opening. The story is due to my writers group by end of the night tonight. I still have time to experiment.

I hope you also find new ways into your characters and your art today. Be well, friends!

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