Changing Voices

Guest post
by Melissa Bowersock

I’m a novelist by trade; the current count stands at nine. That count ranges over the various genres of action, romance, fantasy, western, spiritual and satire. As you can see, I like variety and I will tell any kind of story that grabs me by the throat, drags me to my chair and insists on being written down.

I’ve also learned that every story will demand a different voice. The romance novels will often have a more flowery style to them while the action stories are more clipped and direct. My spiritual novel, Goddess Rising, demanded an almost archaic voice, while my satire of romance novels, The Pits of Passion, bounced irreverently between gushing descriptions and off-the-cuff puns. The voices seem to arise naturally out of the story and require very little effort on my part.

So when I was inspired to write the true story of my aunt, an Army nurse and a prisoner-of-war during World War II, I thought, “No big deal.” I’m an author; I should be able to “auth” any kind of story there is, right?

Well, maybe.

I quickly found out that writing non-fiction was an entirely different ball game. While I was used to turning a story this way or that (or at least suggesting a direction; sometimes the characters had different ideas!), writing non-fiction meant staying rigorously aligned to the facts and not deviating for any reason. Because this was a family story as well as a true story, I felt doubly pressured to write as objectively as possible, neither embellishing nor diminishing the facts either for dramatic effect or for my own emotional comfort. Finding the right tone of voice for this project quickly became a challenge.

Except for the addition of some family stories, I had to become almost an observer, assuming a detached, journalistic voice. The fact of the matter was that I had no personal experience with any of the events about which I wrote (although I knew the people well enough), and there was no reason for me to pretend that I did. I was as much on the outside looking in as any of my readers. Luckily the research material I had at hand contained a wealth of information, so “all” I had to do was string it all together in a way that kept the amazing story moving toward its fated end.

What I found liberating about writing non-fiction was the constraint.


Yes, that same constraint I mentioned earlier about sticking to the facts. Because the story was true and had already played out, I did not have to worry about the arc of the story, create the characters or figure out the resolution. It was similar to the security a child feels by having clearly defined boundaries. Yes, you may help yourself to a juice box from the refrigerator; no you may not play with the flame-thrower! Understanding these constraints left me free to laser in on the facts, assemble them in chronological order and connect them in as compelling and suspenseful a way as possible.

Interestingly enough, I found that I liked this non-fiction business. I enjoyed the challenge of hammering out the journalistic voice, of “reporting” on these events from one of the darkest times in our history. Of course, since this is a family story, it was also a labor of love, but I’ve realized that I will not shy away from another true story if it happens to capture my imagination.

Who knew?

Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres. She has been both traditionally and independently published and lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

11 thoughts on “Changing Voices”

  1. This was an ‘aha’ for me. I had never thought about different ‘voices’ suiting different genres. But of course, it makes sense. I expect that also affects why I like to read some kinds of stories more than others. I also explains why two highly acclaimed writers who critiqued a piece of my second book both suggested I use current speech patters for my characters while I knew that would not fit for my genre. They had not read (admitted it) Epic, Old World, Fantasy. I knew in my gut I was right. Now I can explain why.

  2. Excellent post!
    I’m in the middle of writing an historical fiction screenplay of a Civil War era bad-boy from southern Kentucky. I have 3 books to read, a timeline to create, and I must (due to my 120 page limit) glean the really interesting bits from his life and exploits. Actually, it’s been tough, because there’s so much stuff about him (little known as he is) that I’m having to pick and choose what gets included. Hopefully it will come out good and the History Channel will want it.
    But I completely agree with you, writing non-fic forces a certain constraint on our writing muse. Would I do it again? Yeah, I think so.
    Best of luck on your book!

  3. Excellent post, and right on the money. I too write across genres, including humor, and find that as i write, I hear the story in my head differently depending on the genre. I also see the scenes differently. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Such an interesting post especially the prose and romance. I tend to write my Granny series as I imagine how they speak and act with no prose….and have been criticized for it. Now I know the answer! Thanks so much

  5. Thanks all for the great comments. Sounds like I struck a chord! I was as surprised as anyone to realize how strongly a genre demanded its own voice, but once I noticed, it just made sense. Glad to hear this has been helpful for all the other projects you’ve all got going.

  6. Great post Melissa and very reassuring to hear that it can work if you ignore the ‘stick to your genre’ mantra which seems to dominate so much of the theories about being a successful author.

  7. Well done Melissa, I not only enjoyed your post but the voices you mentioned are so true. I looked back over my historical fiction and found obvious voices from the past that helped to build each of the stories. Then when I looked back at my business books I found the instructor’s voice leading the reader through a particular situation. Finally, my last book, Mills Park Mystery-Nebraska to Nuremberg was the most obvious as I was writing pure fiction utilizing past experiences to give it the voices necessary for the story line. Thanks, I now have more of an appreciation for how voices are so much a part of any storytelling..

  8. Mel, hey, if anyone truly knew the one secret to being a successful author, I think we’d hear about it! No matter what anyone says, it’s still a mystery what captures the public’s attention at any given moment and takes off with a bullet. In the meantime, we all just keep plugging away at it.

  9. Excellent post, Melissa, I too write across several genres and from different POVs; I thoroughly enjoy the exercise of different voice. I’m actually writing two books at the moment: an historical fiction based on a true story (written in third person variable), and book two of a speculative fiction series (written in first person).

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