Monday, March 7, 2011

Voice and plot

Today's guest post is by author Janet Fox. How is this process like, or unlike, your own?

Jennifer Hubbard and I are cross-posting on the subjects of voice and plot. I found it so interesting to read her post, because we do have different approaches. I usually don’t have my novels well-plotted before I begin writing; all of my stories start from voice. I hear a sentence or two in my head, and it will be the voice of the character, and often I have no idea what kind of story she is trying to tell me.

That’s when I need to take some pondering time. I’ll write snatches that may (or may not) become scenes; I’ll write the names of other characters and their relationships to the protagonist; I’ll sound out her chief desire; I’ll uncover the antagonist. I spend hours on walks sorting out what I think may be happening and why. I’ll often dream ideas that become important. Finally I’ll sit down and start writing, organically, with the voice of my main character firmly in hand.

This means that my plots are a mess, and my revisions extensive and nasty. And that first-drafting for me is a time-consuming and painful process. But I’ve learned the hard way: if I try to mash out a detailed plot before my story is ready, it falls flat. (For the same reason, I don’t discuss or describe my work in any kind of detail until I have a complete first draft; I don’t bring unfinished first drafts to critique.)

Once I have a messy first draft I can go back and pick through the scenes and find what works and what doesn’t and what’s missing. And at that point I may need to resharpen the voice. What tends to happen as I work is that I start out with a strong character voice, and while I’m crafting scenes the voice disintegrates until it’s my own voice telling the story. In my second draft, I work to be cognizant of the nuances of my main character’s voice again, hearing her tell the story, just as she did when it all began.

I love the fact that there is no one right way to approach crafting voice and plot, that Jenn and I know what works best for each of us.


Janet Fox is the author of the young adult historical novel Faithful (Speak/Penguin 2010), and the companion YA Forgiven (2011). Her blog address is

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