One of the hardest things to do as a writer, in my opinion, is to write in a character’s voice rather than your own. It is a skill that takes time to learn, and more time to master. How much time depends on the writer, but for myself, it is a skill that took a long time to acquire, and if I have mastered it, well that’s a subject that would be for readers to debate, not I. There are a lot of reason why this skill took time to master, including my tendency to write a lot of different things at the same time.
Take Cider Lane, my first published novel, which was written in a years gap between the first year writing Passing Place and the last. Cider Lane has two main characters, and the POV switches between them at the end of every chapter. Now I like to think I pulled off this dual viewpoint overlapping narrative well. Certainly, the reception the novel has had would suggest this is the case. But the novel was written with a third person narrator effectively, which make the trick a little easier than if it had been written in alternating first person.
Passing place is far more complex. While the main plot is all form the POV of Richard the Piano Player as he discovers the impossible bar that is ‘Esqwiths Piano Bar & Grill’, those who work within it, and the patrons of the bar. But part of the structure, and indeed one of the central idea’s and themes of the novel is that Esqwiths is a place where stories are told. So the POV, indeed the way stories are told varies with each one. From the narrated story of the grey man working at the heart of the grey establishment, to the first person account of the life of a Black American soldier in WW1, to a mythic rendition of the Wolf King of Winter, the ice maidens tears told as an Inuit saga, and many others besides.
In short, both Cider Lane and Passing Place contain many voices.
Which brings me to the problem I currently have, its a nice problem to have in many ways, but it is also an oddly exhausting one. The problem of Hannibal Smyth.
I have been writing Hannibal Smyth, otherwise known as Harry Smith, for about three years, but in the last year, he has become the main focus of my writing. He started out as just a bit of fun. A character and an idea to play with while I recharged my writer’s mind for the sequel to Passing Place. He started out in a third person narrated story that after the first several chapters I decided on a whim to rewrite in the first person. A style I generally avoid as a rule for anything long as with first person you have the problem of keeping the character consistent throughout the narrative and that takes practice.
But one book has turned into two and a novella, one novel is written and out with an editor, the second is half written, and the novella which came out of the second when that narrative was still part of the original has been out a couple of months or so. There is also a short Hannibal story that was written for an anthology that will be out later this year, and I have the basic plot outlines for the third novel worked out already.
To be short, there is a lot of Hannibal, and his voice has become second nature to me. Its a different voice to my previous novels. It is very much ‘his’ voice and I just borrow it to write his stories. All well and good, great in fact.
Except last night, I decided to take a break from Hannibal for a week or so and do some work on Something Red, the sequel to Passing place I have been scratching together over the last couple of years. Something Red is a long way from written, but it does have some basic shape, and the main plot is coming together. But right now, I can’t write it, because when I tried to write it, it started coming out in someones else’s voice, the voice of Hannibal Smyth…
Harry bloody Smith has taken over my writing so much, he is doing the writing for me, I may as well just be jotting down notes as he dictates to me.
So I guess I will have to shelve Something Red for a little while longer, old Harry isn’t going to let go of me that easily…
I think I understand now why some writers kill off their main characters, it the only way to get them out of your head…