Testing character voice - 79 words

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Brian G Turner

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Joe Abercrombie in Best Served Cold and The Heroes extends the use of limited POV to carrying something of the character's own voice.

So instead of the character's actions being described in objective terms, and adding only character voice in dialogue, Abercrombie uses a degree of character voice to describe their actions as well.

I'm currently testing this in my current POV, but would like to get an idea as to whether there are any specific objections:


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Ulric was worried about the fire. It weren’t strong, though he’d scraped the ashes together. All he’d left were kindling, and that wouldn’t warm anyone. Ulric had sensed the storm coming yesterday and had found shelter, but Sirath had obviously been caught out. And he were soaked and freezing for it.

Ulric leaned over and blew on the flames, but it didn’t look promising. He hoped Sirath didn’t mind much, but he still felt guilty like a bad host.
 

SciFrac

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Once I got used to it, I think that would help a lot. Provides much more characterization, and I know voice is a major component to success. I'd keep it.
 

HareBrain

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I think it works fine. Only thing that felt wrong was "Ulric had sensed" -- I really wanted "He'd sensed" there. Possibly because the POV is too tight to use his name, though it feels OK at the beginning of a paragraph.
 

Mouse

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Well beaten by the Hare. But yes, what he said. All I was going to say was that 'Ulric' is used too much.
 

Jo Zebedee

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I think if you really want to go close, you have to do this. I would be wary of making it so strong to the point of the reader having to stretch to read it. But each character should have an individual voice, and this should be reflected in their pov chapters.

(Much as I mutter about him, GRRM is good at it, especially given the cast of characters he manages, although some are stronger than others eg. Arya and, imho, Sam have very distinct voices. Theon, too, which is why he manages to carry the Reek stuff so well, because the voice continuity is there.)
 

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It wouldn't stop me reading, Brian. As SciFrac says, it certainly creates a feeling of character. Not entirely sure about the second Ulric in the first paragraph, though. You might get away with 'He' there.

It's no different from Irvine Welsh, really, in using the vocab of the narrating character.
 
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Brian G Turner

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Cheers - I figure if I didn't do it too overtly then I should be fine.

I never noticed GRRM writing different character voice POV's though?? Maybe I wasn't reading closely enough. Or maybe I noticed more with Abercrombie because it sounded more Yorkshire. :D
 

Jo Zebedee

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No, he doesn't do specific character pov voices, but he puts in little idioms that set them apart from each other. He doesn't do it with all of them, either, but if I read a Theon beside an Arya, I can tell which is which from the idioms. It's subtle, and another way to go, that's all.

(or I could be talking out of my hat and need a coffee, that happens. :))
 

Peter Graham

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Morning boss,

Noting wrong with the narrative voice - in fact, you pull it off very well. Just watch for accidental headhopping in longer pieces.

But there are a few was/were issues:-

It weren’t strong
One fire - therefore "it wasn't strong".

, though he’d scraped the ashes together.
Non-sequitur. Ashes can be either hot or cold and you can't get a fire going again from just warm ashes. I think you mean embers.

All he’d left were kindling,
Either "all he had left" or "all he'd got left". But kindling is also a singular, so it's "was", not "were". It seems a little counter intuitive, as we all know that kindling means a pile of little sticks, but it works like a collective noun, so unless there is more than one pile of kindling, it's singular - just like one flock of sheep would be.

And he were soaked and freezing for it.
He was soaked and freezing - only one person being discussed.

Of course, it could be that you are using character voice and this is how the character speaks, in which case you need to make it clearer that this is internalised thought as otherwise it just looks as though you've made a bish.

Regards,

Peter
 

ctg

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It worked for me, but to really judge the "voice" I would have liked, if you would had put a bit longer piece. But each for their own, eh?
 

Jo Zebedee

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Indeed, this is the case - Abercrombie specifically corrupts "was" to "were" in some of his northern character POV chapter prose. :)

But is it a good thing for us to do the same?

I'll try to explain, but I'm not even sure I'm clear in my own mind why this worries me.

Presumably, when Abercrombie was doing it he'd heard an accent and was trying to capture it in the best way he could. (or am I the only one who hears my characters' voices in my head?) So, in doing so he captured "were" as a trait for that character.

Now, not all northern chaps and chapesses use were instead of was. So, from your comment it seemed to be saying - and I might be wrong - that because Abercrombie uses it in his northern character prose, you want to. Like it's the right way to do it, because he does...

Does that run the risk of being derivative? I'm asking because I'm kind of wrestling with the same issue myself. Would it not be better to go and listen in a pub or something until you hear the character voice you need (yes, I am that sad...) and then try to capture that, rather than using a pre-existing artifice?

Just a musing.
 

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I've been thinking about this and trying to recall where someone (Teresa, I think) made a comment about using the character voice for the narrative. Basically, (as I remember it) the advice was to ensure the entry into and exit from the voice was smooth, otherwise you'd have "normal" narrative suddenly bumping against character voice and it would be too jarring. To which I would add, while in the voice narrative it's imperative that it remain the voice, and not a hybrid of the two -- ie it should be pretty much as the character would say it if the narrative were in fact dialogue.

To me, being picky as I am, this didn't quite work because the entry in wasn't smooth enough -- which I put down to the opening sentence "Ulric was worried about the fire." You've used "was" correctly and then in the very next line you've got "were" which for me is too abrupt. Delete that "was" and it would be smoother, to my mind.

Also, to me the voice doesn't stay constant -- the "Ulric" already mentioned pulls us out, but so to my mind does the plethora of "had"s, the "sensed" and the "obviously" in there, which make it too formal. Clearly, though, you know your character voice and if you think he'd use these words in dialogue in exactly this way, that's the important thing -- it's just to me they stick out somewhat.

But yes, the overall idea of using character voice is a good one, and can be very effective, so I definitely think it's something to pursue. It is tricky to combine with normal narrative, though, so I'd agree with ctg that the real test is to show it embedded in a much longer piece.
 

Peter Graham

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I think the issue is that the phrase "Ulric was worried....." is clearly not him talking or thinking - it's an observation from an external narrator. The idea is that having flagged it up, we then drop into Ulric's head.

The issue for me is that it is not immediately obvious that this is what we have done - which is why it looks as though we are dealing with sloppy grammar instead. One sledgehammer way to flag it up would be to use speech marks or italics to denote the shift in narrative voice, but that is clumsy. Much better to ensure that Ulric's voice and the narrator's voice are sufficiently distinct so as to flag it up immediately - at present, they are not.

For example:-

Peter scratched his head and looked at the jumble of metal that had once been the engine of an Austin Allegro. It was starting to dawn on him that taking it apart on the kitchen table had been an unwise decision.

Don't think that Mrs Graham is going to take too kindly to this. Table belonged to her Granny and got through Lucknow unscathed. Probably should have stuck a bit of newspaper down first. Still - in for a penny, in for a pound. It's only a bit of grease and I can get the dints and scratches out of the table with a bit of beeswax. Probably. She shouldn't be back for a few hours, so I can finish up, clean up and she'll be none the wiser. Hang on - is that her car coming up the drive?


Regards,

Peter
 

Brian G Turner

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But is it a good thing for us to do the same?

I'll try to explain, but I'm not even sure I'm clear in my own mind why this worries me.

Presumably, when Abercrombie was doing it he'd heard an accent and was trying to capture it in the best way he could. (or am I the only one who hears my characters' voices in my head?) So, in doing so he captured "were" as a trait for that character.

Now, not all northern chaps and chapesses use were instead of was. So, from your comment it seemed to be saying - and I might be wrong - that because Abercrombie uses it in his northern character prose, you want to. Like it's the right way to do it, because he does...

Does that run the risk of being derivative? I'm asking because I'm kind of wrestling with the same issue myself. Would it not be better to go and listen in a pub or something until you hear the character voice you need (yes, I am that sad...) and then try to capture that, rather than using a pre-existing artifice?

Just a musing.

One thing I'm trying to do is create unique character voice in their own POVs. It's a device sometimes used that I think brings an extra level of depth of the narrative. The fact that Abercrombie uses it to a degree, and he's the biggest selling British fantasy writer at the moment, suggests it has general acceptance.

Corrupted grammar is one way to designate lower class and poor level of education, as are contractions, slang, and similes specific to that character experience. The balancing act comes in putting enough inflection in to denote character, while ensuring it is very readable.

I've only just started to really push on getting the character voice into the prose on the current editing run, hence why I wanted to make a quick check on on this snippet.
 

Susan Boulton

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The POV is ok, but the use of was, had, but etc takes the edge off it.

Also, watch how many buts you use. In this small section you use three in the same type of sentence construction.

See edit below. Just my opinion, though.


Ulric worried about the fire. It weren’t strong, though he’d scraped the ashes. All he’d left were kindling. Ulric sensed the storm coming yesterday and found shelter. Sirath had been caught out. He were soaked and freezing.

Ulric leaned over and blew on the flames. It didn’t look promising. He hoped Sirath didn’t mind much. He still felt guilty like a bad host.
 

nubins

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I quite like it, but as others have said, I'd avoid using the character's name in the descriptions as much as possible. It's the only thing that doesn't quite feel right about it for me.
 

Kylara

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I got jumped out with the second Ulric...also I felt a little like you were dropping in and out of what you were trying to do...the promising and host most obviously - I can see you are either hitting for a northern accent or less educated person, but then you have to use either northern style sentences not the formal ones you are, or if less educated then less educated words - the problem with the former is in corrupting sentences to the extent that they become unintelligible even though capturing voice well, with the second, you end up not being able to describe things as well as you'd like - being confined by ideas and language your person can understand...as it is I think whichever one you are trying for you haven't quite gone far enough...

Also I think you mean embers not ashes :)
 

Brian G Turner

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Yep, cheers, a few sloppy bits in there - hopefully can tighten up easily enough.

Am going to have to pick up Best Served Cold again and study how Abercrombie used it there, especially as he keep jumping between names and male pronouns while using the character voice. Wish I had access to his editor!
 

nubins

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Having had a quick glance through The Heroes, reading the opening page following Craw.. what Abbercrombie seems to do is narrate the story in a neutral tone, but embelish the story with thoughts from the character. It's almost like there are two narrators talking in symbiotic relationship.

For example..

"He found his way through a gap in the tumble-down wall, heart banging like a joiner's mallet. From the long climb up the steep slope, and the wild grass clutching at his boots, and the bullying wind trying to bundle him over. But mostly, if he was honest, from the fear he'd end up getting killed at the top. He'd never laid claim to being a brave man and he;d only got more cowardly with age. Strange thing, that - the fewer years you have to lose the more you fear the losing of 'em. Maybe a man just gets stock of courage when he's born, and wears it down each scrape he gets into."

The first part is neutral, it uses JA's usual very distintive style, but it's the same style he would use when describing events around any character. But the second half has switched, the narrator is now using insight from Craw and the language reflects it.

Which is different from the approach you have taken, which is to apply the language to normal events, rather than just those flourishes of insight from the character being followed. At least.. that's how I see it. I seem to get everything wrong on here so I'm likely to be wrong here too...
 
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