Voice: Creating It Through Microrevision
I recently read Maggie Stiefvater’s Call Down the Hawk, and as I read, I admired how thoroughly she saturates every line of the book with the voice of the point-of-view character.
When I refer to a character’s “voice,” I mean the way their experience, education, emotions, and attitude affect the words they use. It’s what turns point of view from a pair of observing eyes to a revelation about the observing character.
I was in the process of doing a last round of revision to a book about a glassmaker. With Stiefvater’s prose in my head, I did some microrevision for voice. I’m going to show some of what I did in the first few pages in the paragraphs below. I’ll also explain why I made the changes.
Removing or Delaying Backstory
The pieces I’d cut for my stained glass window glowed on my worktable. My fingers burned to fit them together, a sure sign the dragon on Kural’s Heights had breathed a vision for the window into my ear. Despite having slept for generations, the dragon still dreamed, and when we were lucky, we shared those dreams because we were his people. For me, that meant visions of wonderful, stained glass windows.
The pieces I’d cut for my stained glass window glowed on my worktable, making my fingers itch to put them together. Behind me, the door to my workroom opened, and my mother entered. “It’s late,” she said, pushing a sweat-darkened strand of hair off her forehead. “Time to quit and eat something.”
Why I Changed It
This is the book’s opening paragraph. As you see, I removed a piece of “told” world-building trusting that the subsequent pages would show it in a more natural way. The original version moves away from what is going on in the narrator’s life in this moment. The revision sticks to it.
Including the Character’s Reactions
After that, I’d no longer be an apprentice. I’d be able to design my own patterns and projects with no one’s approval. I looked forward to that. There was work my mother deemed too daring or hard or risky for me. After the ceremony, I meant to do it all.
After that, I’d no longer be an apprentice. I’d be able to design my own patterns and projects with no one’s approval. I looked forward to that. There was work my mother deemed too daring or hard or risky for me. After the ceremony, she could object all she wanted and I could do it all anyway. It was a lovely thought.
Why I Changed It
The change is at the excerpt’s end. I wanted to reflect the tension a 17-year-old girl might feel in having a mother who is also her boss. In other words, I thought more deeply and widely about how the character would feel and tried to reflect that.
Making a Motive More Specific to the Character
As soon as the door closed, I rushed down the stairs, grabbed my own cloak from its hook, and went out into the yard. Whatever the matter was, it had to be important for her to leave the furnace. If trouble was brewing for her or the glasshouse, I wanted to know.
As soon as the door closed, I rushed down the stairs, grabbed my own cloak from its hook, and went out into the yard. Whatever the matter was, it had to be important for her to leave the furnace. I thought about the man at the gate, the one she and Miriv had been talking about. Could she be going to meet him? I couldn’t resist the chance to learn something about this man from her past. The mystery was just too enticing.
Why I Changed It
The original version refers to a fear of some unspecific, general “trouble” that prompts the character to follow her mother. I changed the character’s motive to be more specific and personal. She’s spying on what she thinks is an old romance. And she’s excited about it.
Including the Character’s Judgment/Implying the Character’s Past Experience
Who was this man anyway? She’d sounded like she did when she talked to me or Miriv rather than a customer. This was personal. An old boyfriend maybe? She’d had one or two in the years between my father’s death and the blossoming of her affection for Miriv.
Who was this man anyway? Not a customer. She’d sounded like she did when she talked to me or Miriv. This was personal. I’d been thinking he might be an old boyfriend. She’d had one or two in the years between my father’s death and the blossoming of her affection for Miriv. If he was, she didn’t have fond memories. I knew a bad breakup when I saw it.
Why I Changed It
I’d already tweaked the character’s expectations from a general trouble to a more personal snooping on a romance, so I needed to include that here. But also, the last lines of the revision render her judgment on what she sees, a judgment suggesting she may have had a bad breakup of her own or seen it happen to one of her friends. That rounds her out a bit. She conveys an attitude toward what she sees. She doesn’t just narrate it.
I like the changes I made. The experience of writing them also reminded me how much I’m influenced by what I read. I learned something from reading Stiefvater. I got it in my head and in my ear. From now on, when I’m writing, I’m going to read the best books I can find and hope they rub off.
THE TRICKSTER by Dorothy A. Winsor
Royal attendant Dilly & smuggler’s son Fitch put together the puzzle of where treason lies in Lac’s Holding. But who will they have to betray to stop it? Also, there’s a dog!
Available from all online retailers or directly from the small press publisher, Inspired Quill. IQ is a registered social enterprise that tries to do well by doing good. They make a more money if you buy directly from them.
2 thoughts on “Voice: Creating It Through Microrevision”
Dorothy, I love how you give actual rewrite examples and talk about why you made the changes. Also, another book/author recommendation! Thanks!
I hope you like Stiefvater. I like some of her books better than others. I think SCORPIO RACES is my favorite.