Inside Out: Knowing a character so well, they become your voice

This past weekend I got to spend a delightful 9 hours in a car listening to Inside Out by Maria Snyder.  Melissa waxed oh so poetically about Maria Snyder’s writing ability in her post on  Poison Study.  And I would have to agree.  Snyder has a wonderful style and her character has a charming wit and sarcasm that lends well to a first person narrative.  You don’t feel trapped in the person’s mind; you actually like hearing the thought processes and struggling with the character.  Inside Out is no different.  The first person narrative is witty and intriguing.  And I would recommend the book without hesitation.

With that said, I could not help noticing a similarity in the main character in Poison Study, Yelena, and main character in Inside Out, Trella.  Yelena and Trella are both strong willed, inquisitive, smart, independent, solitary young woman who through extraordinary events are the catalysts for spectacular change in their worlds.  Since the stories are told from first person their thoughts become the thoughts and views of the reader.  They are the focal point of the events but they don’t see themselves in that light. They are just trying to survive.  Their semi-disinterest in the workings of the politics and greater schemings of their environment keep them from becoming egotistical and narcissistic.

I like the characters, but I think that this is because they are the same character just put in a different story.

And this is my quandary: Is using the same voice for one story in a different story sloppy writing or just stylistic?

Like I said, individually both Poison Study and Inside Out are excellent stories.  They are fun, witty, and well written.  Had I not read both of the different stories I would have not noticed the similarities.  Part of me wants to say that Snyder has found a narrative voice that she is comfortable with.  It lends itself well to the type of story that she likes to tell, which is generally a dystopian world.  Most authors have a particular style or narrative voice that becomes their hallmark.  Tolkien, Orson Card, Diana Wynne Jones, Edgar Allen Poe and Georgette Heyer all have a voice that is distinctly their own.  The readers come to expect it and are taken aback when the voice is different.

So what is so wrong with Snyder finding that voice?

The answer is in the fact that she writes in first person.  All of the authors that I mentioned write in third person.  Their narrative voice is not associated with a particular character. It is a disembodied storyteller.  But Snyder’s narrative voice because it is first person must be attached to a character.  Snyder’s narrative voice is a character.  Though this character is lovable, snarky, cleaver, inquisitive, and independent, the character transcends into Snyder’s other stories.  Yelena becomes Trella in Inside Out.  Therefore, without even realizing Snyder begins to tell the same story just in a different place.  It is the same story because the character dictated by the narrative style reacts the same way.  She thinks the same way and responds to people the same way.

I am still struggling to figure out if this is necessarily a bad thing.  Clearly Snyder’s editors do not think that it is detrimental, since she has published so many books. However, just because someone is published does not mean that they have the best styles or methods for writing.  Should an author using first person make an effort to make their characters different  in different stories?  Or am I just being picky? Is there a better way to write first person or is this the problem with writing using the first person?

I have used first person to write a couple of stories.  And I’d like to think that I have sufficiently made each of those main characters different enough that their voice and way of telling the story is not the same; however, I am concerned now that I may have made the same mistake.  But than again is it really a mistake or just the fact that when using first person you become the character and their voice becomes your narrative voice.


6 thoughts on “Inside Out: Knowing a character so well, they become your voice

  1. Stick to your guns, no matter how popular the writer is who breaks the rule. In first person narration, the voice must fit the character who is telling the story–and that character cannot always be you.

    Third person narrators should normally have a neutral voice, so that the individual voices of the characters are not being competed with. Some writers could benefit from acting lessons!

    1. Don, that is always how I felt about those two narrative styles. I generally don’t like first person; however, there are some writers who can use first person and I don’t even realize that they are using it. Steven Lawhead’s Song of Albion series is one of those books. And I even use first person partially because that is how the story came to me. But I have to be honest I have one story that was originally told in first person, I discovered that is wasn’t working. I went back and I changed it to third and then I didn’t like it. I am currently working on its hundredth revision and I am still torn about the narrative voice. (the story is very much unfinished because of this problem)

  2. Ask yourself what effect you want the story to have on the reader–only one narrator will be able to achieve this effect. For example: Faulkner’s “Rose for Emily.” Only a person from the town who was an objective, limited observer and NOT an omniscient narrator could have taken us into that room and have us react the way we do to that long strand of iron gray hair.

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