Journaling My Way to Voice and Story

Sunday, April 29, 2012
Recently I blogged about Mari McCarthy’s e-book Start Journaling and Change Your Life in 7 Days. Since then, I’ve used my journal to focus on my audience before I write. Who are they? How are they different from me? What are they going to demand from this piece? How might  this differ from my expectations?

While that works for shorter nonfiction projects, I’ve been writing a longer piece of teen fiction, sending my editor an outline and then a draft. I’d journaled about audience for the outline. When it came time to write the story, I focused on what the story is all about – my characters.

I needed to do this because, based on my outline, my editor found my protagonist unsympathetic. She gave me tips on how to change this, but I had trouble starting the story. Nothing sounded right. I had to find my character’s voice while writing the story in 3rd person. I turned to my journal.

When I sat down to journal that morning, I asked what my character would have to say about being called unsympathetic. I decided to let him speak for himself and write the journal entry in his first person POV. Let’s just say that this particular teen had plenty to say, starting with the fact that he didn’t ask for anyone’s sympathy. He hadn’t created the story problem, but everyone expected him to fix it. We should shut up and let him do it his way. He was freaked out and scared and we weren’t helping.

As the author, I knew most of this. Laying it down in his own words helped me find his voice and get into the story. Soon I had a rough draft, but his brother, the antagonist, was flat.

His story had to come through as well. Sure, he was messing up his younger brother’s life, but it isn’t something he planned to do. He hates needing help from his baby brother. He hates what has happened to him. He’s angry. Who catches the brunt of this anger? His brother. Deal with it.

Again, these were things I knew, but in journaling for him I found the character’s voice. His dialogue tightened to the point of being tense, terse and rude – nothing that would keep him up at night.

If you’re having problems nailing a piece of fiction, journal.

  • Write from the point of view of your protagonist.  Why is his story important?  What does he most want you to know?
  • Write from the POV of your antagonist. Remember, almost no one is a villain in their own mind. What’s his story? How does he feel about being the bad guy?
  • As the story progresses, journal about problem scenes. Why are your characters apprehensive about these scenes? What secrets are they holding back?

Let your characters do the talking and you may be surprised at what they have to say.


Author Sue Bradford Edwards blogs at One Writer's Journey.


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