Establishing the point of view and finding the voice in your writing are two critical elements which will help your story to sing off the page. Following are my top tips for both.
Point of View – Am I the Author, Narrator, Protagonist – or all three?
When writing your own story, you are the protagonist (or hero) of your story, as well as the author and narrator. Let’s take a minute to understand both the Author’s and Narrator’s Points of View (POV).
From the Author POV, you are making the decisions about which bits of your story to include in the entire work and which bits to leave out. You are taking an overall perspective from your current point of view, with the knowledge and wisdom gained from everything you have learned.
However, your actual writing should be from the Narrator’s POV. This point of view is fluid, and changes at various points in your story, just as it has throughout your life.
Here is an example. Let’s imagine you got married and a few years later divorced? You would write about your wedding day from the point of view of being that excited bride or groom (if this was the case), then write about the divorce later in the story from your perspective when that happened. The feelings you describe about both events are liable to be very different and should be a reflection of who you were at each moment. You should ‘narrate’ the story of the wedding as the person you were then, and not with the perspective you have now as the divorced person. Writing from the narrator’s point of view in this way takes the reader on a journey and allows you to surprise them, just as surprises happen in our lives.
Finding the voice
Once you have established your point of view, the voice for your story is critical as it sets the tone for the entire work. It MUST be consistent throughout. The voice can take a little time to establish and is determined by a range of factors:
First-person memoir or autobiography in your voice – try to aim for a conversational tone. Be yourself at all times. The reader should feel like they are listening to you speak. If you are struggling to find your voice on the page, consider recording yourself on your smartphone, or on a Dictaphone, imagining you are telling your story to a friend over coffee. Listen back, and if you can – write the words down as you have spoken them. This is your voice! Another way to do this is to open an email to yourself on your smartphone, dictate the content of an email, and send it to yourself.
Biographical work from a removed perspective – if you are writing about a family member or another person, you will be writing in the third person, just as if you were reporting on the story for a newspaper or magazine. It is important to remember not to bring your personal perspective into these stories, you are reporting on the ‘facts’ or what has been told to you by the person you are writing about (eg from their perspective).
For a self-help or instructional book based on your own experiences – your tone needs to reflect who you are talking to, and what age or level your readers are at – eg are you aiming at children, adults, beginners, or people more advanced requiring your knowledge base? It is critical to maintain consistency throughout. Don’t switch your tone from professional to casual and conversational halfway through – or vice versa.
Dialogue and Quotes
I’m a big fan of using the DIALOGUE and QUOTES in all stories, as these bring the ‘voice’ to life in the work and really drive the story forward. We will never be able to write a conversation down verbatim, but as long as we are capturing its essence, and the truth of it, and not trying to rewrite history, that is fine. You may want to talk to other people involved in your story to see how they remember any conversations you had. Or if you are writing about other people, you can capture their quotes at the interview stage and use them in your writing.
Exercise – Writing dialogue
Here is a fun exercise from my Writing Life Stories workshops. I ask participants to imagine the conversation these two ladies are having and spend a couple of minutes writing it down. Why don’t you give it a try?
I hope this has helped to define the point of view and finding the voice when writing memoir or biography. Don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
Until next month.