I was doing some thinking this weekend about ‘voice’ and how authors use it to capture and reflect the age, background, and perspective of their main characters throughout their stories. And I found myself wondering what aspects contribute most to a main character’s ‘voice’? Is it the vocabulary they employ? Their observations or opinions? Or simply the tonality and pacing of what is written?
When I was preparing this blogpost, one of the things that struck me most was how often an author mentions their MC’s age right there in the very first page. It makes sense, really, since it’s the fastest and easiest way to convey a mental image to the reader.
But what if they hadn’t mentioned age right away? What if there was no outside blurb, physical descriptions or indication of who’s telling the story and all we had to rely on was ‘voice’? Would we still have an accurate image of who’s telling the story? I’m curious. Below I’ve taken three different extracts from the first page of three fairly well-known books; each one written from the point of view of a different age group.
Based on voice alone, how old would you say each character is?
Example 1 - ‘Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge. The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, although I have no idea what the function of either actually is. Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, and a lot of kings named Louis. I’m not sure what they did either, but I think it has something to do with the French Revolution, which has something to do with Bastille Day. The art museum is called the Louvre and it’s shaped like a pyramid and the Mona Lisa lives there along with that statue of the woman missing her arms. And there are cafés or bistros or whatever they call them on every other street corner. And mimes. The food is supposed to be good, and the people drink a lot of wine and smoke a lot of cigarettes.’
Example 2- ‘It has not been the rip-roaring spectacular I fancied it would be, but neither have I burrowed with the gophers. I suppose it has most resembled a blue-chip stock; fairly stable, more ups than downs, and gradually trending upward over time.’
Example 3-‘We moved on the Tuesday before Labor day. I knew what the weather was like the second I got up. I knew because I caught my mother sniffing under her arms. She always does that when it’s hot and humid, to make sure her deodorant’s working.’
Did you get an impression of how old each narrator was? What aspects do you think contribute most to a character’s ‘voice’?
(I'll include the answers to these in the comments section later on today :)