Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: Can you Plot Without Voice?

**Art from Deviant Art **

At my last SCBWI conference, I heard one of the presenters say: The question isn't what should HAPPEN next, but what would your main character DO next.  Which seems to tie in with a predominant theme Nikki said she kept hearing at her SCBWI conference last weekend - an author must have a solid voice.  If it's possible to combine these two pieces of advice, it means that if we're thinking about what our characters would "do" next, we have to already know their voice. (I mean, Bella wouldn't be Bella if she willingly wore a prom dress and had anything nice to say about it, right? )
**Art found here.**
Which has me thinking... can we effectively plot a novel if we haven't already nailed our MC's voice?  It seems that for most of us, this kernel of an idea sprouts inside our brains and we grow it around the  storyline.  The MC often takes shape by the actions we're forcing him or her into as part of the story arc.  And I wonder - is this backwards?

Do the "pantsers" have the edge in today's market because they develop their MC's voice and follow where it leads?  Or is voice just a packaging for character traits and can be added in or tweaked later?

I wish I knew the answers to these questions.  I can say that writing Destined was relatively "easy" and freeing because the plot was already in place -- I simply drew on the ancient myth and let Sadie's new & improved (IMHO) voice tweak the old story. For example, in the original Cupid & Psyche myth, Psyche waits around for others to help her solve her problems.  In my version, Sadie is proactive and clever.  The end result is the same: Psyche/Sadie completes Venus' seemingly impossible tasks. But her voice changed. Her character changed. All while the basic story structure remained in place.

Which tells me that as an author, I need a basic plot (points A, B, C and D) in place, but when determining how to navigate within those points, that's when I need to let the voice of my character be my guide.  What about you?  Do you heed the siren song of your MC's voice or do you create an elaborate plot and your MC falls in line accordingly?


  1. I think it depends on your genre. If you are writing mystery, suspense, or thriller, plot is extremely important. I think the romance and fantasy genres are better character driven. And of course, literary works are all about the character.

  2. I figure out my story line first like what I want to write about. The Character though... I let him or her speak, meaning in the beginning they are either witty, sarcastic, or defiant... or they are sweet it just depends on how I want the story to start. The other thing we have to remember is how the character does develop or starts to change. I loved this post.

  3. I've just done a mini post on this one...Well it touches on it.

    I was saying that i need the main plot points but i needed my characters EMOTIONS in my head. If they are there then it drives everything from actions to speech. If my character is Angry she isn't going to have a light conversation with best friend over flowers :-)

    But i am writing a book where emotion is at the forefront so i don't know if that is valid for everything. I tend to write like that though. Feel what the character feels and go from there.

    my 2c :-)


  4. I come up with an idea for a story first then figure out my characters though extensive characterization. This helps me nail my mc's voice. Only then do I outline the book. If I were to do it the other way round, my current wip would be very different, but not necessarily better.

  5. WOW... great post... and awesome comments above. I think you've all hit the nail. It *does* depend on genre, to a certain extent. I envy total *pantsers* to the Nth degree. I have to know where my stories are going. But then again, I don't write literary fict. either.

    Jessie, I even think romances can be plotted... I think there are twists and turns and comlications that must be present in romances for them to work.

    For me, "voice" is more about how the character feels, sounds, acts, reacts, to the confines they're placed within. To me "voice" doesn't guide the story. The story is the story. Two people will react differently to the same stimulus... that's where voice comes in. IMHO

    Great post. Happy Writing.

  6. No matter how hard I try, the MC's voice will always dictate my plot, and I think it is important to let them, no matter what the genre. Really, a plot is just a series of actions and reactions, and we need to let our characters act how they want to in order for them to remain genuine.

  7. To sort of tack on to what Christopher said, I try to do something in between what you mentioned. I setup events, things I know need to happen. Then, I guide my character to those key events, letting her dictate how she gets there. If my character DOESN'T get there, then I haven't done my job in crafting her character. The character I create and the goals/obstacles I setup have to go hand-in-hand. Like Christopher said, voice is about reacting to the stimuli in the way the character would. If I don't already have an idea of how my character would react to the key stimuli, then I haven't crafted her correctly, and either the character or plot needs to be tweaked.


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