Narrative Voice


The world you create through your writing – its setting, characters, storyline, atmosphere and the rest – is as fragile as a soap bubble.

As long as your reader believes in your world, and cares about the characters and the outcome of their journey, your reader is likely to stick with you.

Of course, your reader may not care about your characters for reasons you can’t control. He or she has pulled your book off the shelf, discovered it is a romance between a thirteenth century English princess and a werewolf, or the adventures of a female bounty hunter in a distant galaxy in 2168, and that’s just not their thing. No sweat.

But suppose the would-be reader consults the blurb on the back and thinks, This looks promising. They check out a couple of pages and decide to take the book home and read it.

But then – the soap bubble bursts.

Your lovingly created world and characters no longer hold the reader.

Why? What happened?

Well, it could be several things, but the most likely reason I stop reading a book has to do with voice. The characters simply do not sound like who they are supposed to be. Not just in the words they speak, but the words telling me how they see themselves, the world and other people. group-1825509_640Their thoughts about values. About how to handle events. All the words on the page when we are in that character’s head, living their life, whether in “quotation marks” or not.

To use the technical term, the thoughts of the viewpoint character, at least for that part of the book. (A book may have one or more than one viewpoint character, but that is a subject for another day.)

To put it simply, if I am supposed to be inside the head of a fat, lonely, bullied eleven- year-old boy, I want to believe, for that moment, that I am. I want to see the world through his eyes, through his pain, in his language, in his limited experience of life, his limited emotional resources.

I do not want to hear the pity and concern of the middle-aged woman who wrote the scene. I don’t want to remember she even exists somewhere out there in the world of authors and publishers.

I just want to be inside Max, facing the bullies, sweating with him, feeling my heart thumping.


And if he describes the scene in his own eleven-year-old voice, I will be. And I will stick with him to the last page.

How do you achieve that? Well, you hang around the people you want to write about. Learn their vocabulary, their topics of conversation, their attitudes to everything likely to come up in the story. Read similar books to the one you want to write, but read for a purpose.

Stop and ask yourself, “Why is this scene working?” What is the writer doing here that has me utterly hooked on these characters and their story? How does he/she bring them to life so convincingly?

Suggested reading? Start with To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes, I know. But there is a reason it is a classic. The flawless voice of the grown Scout Finch recalls how as a small child she perceived a series of events that rocked her sleepy rural town to its foundations. The Help by Kathryn Stockett is widely praised for its “pitch perfect” voices. Go pick up one of the Harry Potter books and check the voices. It may be a fantastic imaginary world, but the voices of the students (and adults) are authentic. Remember, voice is more than quoted speech. It is a convincing presentation of how that character sees the world.

If a story isn’t reeling you in, again stop and ask why not. You could even make some notes, the beginning of a writer’s journal. Yes, that was a hint.

Reading as a writer is a very useful exercise. You almost cannot become a writer without making a regular practice of it.

Finding a person of that rare breed who will read your story (no, not your Mom) and give you feedback on what convinced them they were inside the head of the character –  or spoiled the illusion that they were –  is worth diamonds.

Lapses from using the right voice may not be what spoiled your story. But getting voice right is a huge step towards success.

Further reading? Ch13, ‘Voices’, Orson Scott Card, Characters & Viewpoint, link below.

“Talk Under Water” by Kathryn Lomer

The Facebook page of Jessica Watson – the Australian teen who skippered her sailboat solo around the Southern Hemisphere at age 16 – brings Summer Rainbird and Will Lane together.

They both think Jessica is awesome, but Summer has never set foot on a sailboat. Will lives on one.


When they find out they have a connection through a tiny coastal town in Tasmania, emails fly between them. But then Will announces he’s sailing home to Kettering. Summer is in big trouble. Because she is not the girl in the photo she sent to Will.

How can she get out of this one?

Back in Kettering, Will has his own problems. How does he fit into school after the freedom of the ocean? How does he reconnect with the kids he grew up with? They have changed too, in ways he can’t quite handle.

They can’t handle him, either. Or, his best friend Cully can’t handle Summer, and the growing bond between her and Will. To Cully, she’s always ‘the deaf chick’.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons                      Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

To Will, Summer is the easiest person to be around, whether he takes her out sailing on Albatross, or they silently fish off the jetty together, write notes to each other, or email. He’s fascinated by how she signs in Auslan with her deaf friends, and he’s soon discovering for himself what a neat language it is. A discovery shared by the reader.

And yes, with Auslan, you really can talk under water!

Their friendship deepens as they learn each of them has lost a parent. Then Cully steps between them, causing Summer to believe Will has betrayed her.

If Cully forces Will to make a choice, who will he choose, Summer or his childhood friend? On a three-day sailboat journey around wild and beautiful Bruny Island, the three teenagers’ true characters are revealed when disaster strikes Albatross off the island’s rocky shore.


Readers who hope to learn something when they read a novel, and readers who are just looking for a good story, will both enjoy this this book. Through some great characters, Kathryn Lomer has enabled readers to enter the twin worlds of a small Tasmanian coastal town, and Australia’s Auslan signing community.

Meet the author of Talk Under Water,%20Kathryn

More reviews of Talk Under Water

More about Auslan:

More about Kettering:

Writing fiction – Heroes and Characters

pencil, notebook, Pixabay

Here are a couple of central ideas from some of the recommended books on creative writing.

A hero is not Spiderman or the fireman who saves a child, or your favorite football player.

A hero, in storytelling, is the story’s central character, who goes on a real life – or mental, or spiritual – journey, and passes various milestones, to become a changed person at the end.


The Hero’s Journey has specified stages or turning points, and they can be identified in stories by writers as different as Shakespeare, Jane Austin and JK Rowling.

Note, that caricature characters like James Bond do not follow the journey, and do not change as a result of their adventures.

Another aspect of writing is the characters.

Like the Hero’s Journey, the possible distinct characters have been studied and written about. Not all the books and magazine articles agree on the details! Read them and decide for yourself.

More to the point, become an observer of people in real life.

Even if you are writing non-fiction—say the story of your family—it will come alive if you slip in vivid details of how people really behave. Put an expression on great grandpa’s face, give a voice to your great-great grandmother. Give the uncle who died in foreign combat a handshake, a way of nodding when he listens; put sunlight or the shadow of a leafy branch across his face as he talks.

Give your characters a background, a childhood, a personal history, whether it appears in the story or not.

Think about your own childhood, and the childhood experiences of other people you know well. What makes your created characters timid, bullying, dishonest, caring, the clown of the class, hard-driving, patient, idealistic? See them, hear them, and let your readers hear and see them, because you have developed a skill in observing people in real life. Of course, don’t overdo it. Keep your touch light.

 Google The Hero’s Journey and The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and see what you come up with.


You can easily buy both these books online

A word that writers often encounter is genre. This means categories of writing, especially novels. So we have the historical novel, romance, biography, thrillers, young adult, family saga, crime, westerns, war, horror and so on. Many writers keep to one genre. Others don’t.

Ask yourself what you like to read. That is probably what you should try to write.

Enjoy, and good luck!

‘Yong – Journey of an Unworthy Son’ ; ‘Ties That Bind, Ties That Break’

YA fiction, Ties That Bind, Ties That Break and Yong, Unworthy Son, book covers

Yong – The Journey of an Unworthy Son

by Janeen Brian

Thirteen-year old Yong recounts his dangerous journey from southern China to join the 1850s gold rush in Ballarat, Victoria. He tries with all his heart to be worthy son, obedient to his father’s decision to sail to Australia after drought and famine devastate their village.

But everything goes wrong on a journey Yong never wanted to make.

Shipwrecked on the Australian coast 400 miles from the goldfields, Yong, his father and the other villagers are cast into a world of strange foreign people, and a stranger landscape.

Can they trust the white man they pay to guide them to Ballarat? They have no choice. They set out in the cold and rain of winter, carrying their supplies in baskets on poles across their shoulders, the mud sucking at their frail rope shoes.

Yong is hiding secrets – one from the other Chinese travelers, and one from his father. This second secret makes Yong feel a deeply unworthy son. Its weight is heavier than the physical load he carries on the endless, hungry trek through the alien Australian wilderness.

Their guide becomes a hostile drunk, and sickness strikes the exhausted would-be gold miners. As they argue, tell jokes, sing their country’s songs, encourage each other to keep going, we almost walk beside them. Like them, we fear reaching Ballarat may be an impossible dream.

Yong begins the journey as a boy, an obedient son, but by journey’s end he will be a man, making his own honorable choices.

Through one boy’s story, beloved Australian children’s author Janeen Brian has brought alive some Australian settlers we know too little about.


Ties That Bind, Ties that Break’

By Lensey Namioka

Two generations after Yong’s journey, little Ailin is born into a China on the edge of revolution. Her family’s wealth is slipping away as farmers rebel against landlords. The Emperor is overthrown, no-one understands what the new Republic really is, and Ailin’s own rebellion almost tears her family apart.

This little girl will not have her feet bound. She will not live her life as a cripple, even though ancient custom demands all women submit to it. Her defiance makes her a social outcast, without any hope of marriage.

bound feet China-ties that bind ties that break

As the western world forces its ways on China – railways, steamships, trade – Ailin travels her own path to freedom. One large, unbound foot at a time.

Her journey is longer than Yong’s, but we are carried along by this gifted, lonely little hero, who seizes every opportunity offered by a new China lurching out of the past into an unknown future.

See more reviews at

Read about author Lensey Namioka here:

Source: Reviews: ‘Yong – Journey of an Unworthy Son’ ; ‘Ties That Bind, Ties That Break’

“One Would Think the Deep” and “Steal My Sunshine”

When a family tears itself apart, can secrets from the past bring healing – or will they destroy even what is left?

Who will you be after the secrets are told, and how will you live with what you learn, and the people who lied to you?


Two Australian YA novels answer these question in very different ways.

Sam lives with his Mum in inner Sydney. It’s just him and her. He’s never known his father, and Aunty Lorraine and his cousins and Nana vanished from his life seven years ago, when he was ten.

One Would Think the Deep” opens just after Sam’s Mum has dropped dead in their kitchen, and the Welfare decides Sam can’t live on his own.

Aunty Lorraine reluctantly takes him home to the New South Wales  South Coast, to live with her and her boys. Shane’s old hatred of Sam is as mean as ever. But Minty and Sam were always like brothers, and Minty the champion surfer soon has Sam out on a board, catching waves as the sun rises behind them.


Then Nana returns from the past, determined to again be part of all their lives. Sam is torn between warm childhood memories, and fury that she walked out on them.

He has all the local kids to learn to fit in with, too, the surfer crowd and the others. The dialog between them is stunningly convincing – laconic, economical, easy in its casual acceptance of the newcomer.

But Sam knows he belongs nowhere. Lorraine doesn’t want him. When his lifelong, smoldering black rage explodes in violence, it threatens everything he still has.

The healing power of the waves, a love of offbeat music, a girl who runs by her own rules, and Nana who is determined to write a new story of Sam’s past – together they just may create a future Sam finds worth living.


One Would Think the Deep” is a moving and deeply convincing story of teen friendship, and of the healing power within even messed-up families. Claire Zorn’s reputation as a writer of outstanding YA fiction grows with every book.


Emily Gale writes a very different story of a broken family hiding secrets in “Steal My Sunshine”.

Hannah’s mother is distant, angry, seeming unable to love her daughter or her own mother. She gives Hannah the duty of checking in on Nana – Essie – a tiny, eccentric and fiercely opinionated woman.

The only person Hannah’s mother can love – or allow to love her –  is Hannah’s older brother, while Hannah is close to her dad. As she says, You had to pick a side in this family, or you had one picked for you.

Hannah’s best friend is wild-child Chloe, and like Essie she seems to know ‘how life really works’. But where is their friendship leading Hannah?

In the midst of a Melbourne summer heatwave, Hannah’s dad can take no more of the anger that fills the house. He packs his suitcases and walks out. Hannah’s mother has a breakdown, and Hannah turns to Essie and Chloe.

Essie senses her time is running out, and there are family secrets that need to be told before she dies.

What she tells Hannah is devastating for her, for her mother – and for readers of Steal My Sunshine. Emily Gale provides a powerful human face for a terrible injustice in Australia’s not-so-distant past.

Now that Essie’s family know the truth, can they create a more hopeful future? Or will it destroy any chance for Hannah and her mother to learn how to show love?

Emily Gale is well-established as an Australian children’s author. She is building a strong reputation as an author of contemporary, relevant YA fiction as well.


Julia on Writing Fiction #2

 pencil, notebook, Pixabay

Can you find someone to help you with your writing? Absolutely. Get on the internet and find out if there are writers’ groups meeting in your location, or online groups that fit your needs. Ask at your local public library.

Read writers’ blogs such as

Some writers’ groups and community colleges run short courses on writing and others are online and free

Pixabay, easel blackboard, classical school desk

Of course, the usual cautions apply. Be wary of scams when signing up for courses you have to pay for.

Libraries often have helpful books on various aspects of writing, as do online bookstores. Some classic books written decades ago are still eagerly read by a new generation of beginning writers. Used copies cost a lot less than new books, and some listed below (and others) can be downloaded to your device. On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft eBook: Stephen King ..

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers: John Gardner …

45 Master Characters – Victoria Lynn Schmidt

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers – Christopher Vogler …

Awakening the Heroes Within by Carol S. Pearson – Read Online


Local public libraries also have periodicals on writing, some of the articles are very, very good, and it’s all free information. Ask your librarian.


Images courtesy of


Review – “New Guinea Moon” – Kate Constable

After one fight too many with her mother, sixteen-year-old Australian Julie McGinty finds herself put on a plane, flying to meet a father she doesn’t remember in a country she doesn’t know.

In a blinding rainstorm her tiny plane lands in the frontier town of Mt Hagen, high in the mountains of Papua New Guinea. The storm, the fury of the air charter boss at the deadly risk taken by the pilot, the rough language and teasing of Julie and her Dad by the other pilots – all foreshadow the turmoil Julie is about to meet head-on.

Teen girl PNG Highlands watches an aircraft

It is 1974, and the country is on the verge of independence from its Australian colonial masters. The ‘expats’ – or foreign workers and families – live pampered lives that socially exclude the local people. In their tiny social circle in Mt Hagen the expats ask each other, ‘What will Independence mean for us, when the ‘nationals’ take over? Do we have a future in this country many of us love as deeply as if it were our own?’

Julie is shocked and confused by the unwritten rules that separate the two communities.

For Julie, this conflict soon becomes personal, as Australian teen Ryan, and Simon, whose mother is local, compete for her attention. She hears the locals’ simmering anger in Simon’s, ‘It won’t happen after Independence,’ when he is challenged for entering an ‘expats only’ area.

Constable brings to life the beauty of the Highlands with the passion of someone who once called it home, so the reader almost sees the mountain views, hears the tropical birds, smells the rich vegetation, is deafened by the drumming rain.

She enables the reader to enter into the social tension, too, as we empathize with the expats who so desperately hope that Independence will not force them out. At the same time, we bristle at the locals’ lack of power and status, symbolized by expats calling adult local men bois.

‘Expat’ children with Tony, a Papua New Guinean father, and his children – 1973


Then a plane goes missing, secrets spill out, and Julie discovers she has ties with Papua New Guinea she ever imagined. To right a wrong almost as old as Julie herself, she and Simon must fight their way through greater dangers than the foreign community’s anger at their friendship.

Julia on Writing Fiction #1

First a word on writers and authors. A writer is someone who writes—novels, plays, poems, short stories, or a blog. J K Rowling is a writer. She is the author of the ‘Harry Potter’ books. William Shakespeare was a writer. He is the author of many plays and poems. So you’re not an author. You’re the author of something. Whether it’s a blog or a novel. So, call yourself a writer.

 How writers write, Part 1. It’s interesting to listen to successful writers being interviewed, or to read their descriptions of how they write. Some get up at five am and write until late morning. Some get up late morning and write on and off until evening. Some work office hours. Some set themselves a quota of words to write each day. Whatever works. Also, many writers have day jobs and have to fit their writing around that. The only thing a successful writer probably can’t do is wait for inspiration to fall out of the sky. This is sometimes called ‘waiting for your muse’. (Google it!) Inspiration needs to be prodded and encouraged. Deadlines are good for this. ‘I gotta have something to send to that competition by Friday.’ ‘I have to write a post for my blog every Sunday.’

Writer reading her work on laptop
Writers need to keep practicing – like musicians

How writers write, Part 2. Some writers make all sorts of detailed notes before they start. Some draw diagrams to help them plan the story, they draw maps, write biographies and physical descriptions of the characters. They choose what car each character drives, their children’s middle names, and whether they went to a state school or an expensive private college. These writers know exactly how the story will go.

Other writers have some initial ideas, but they let the story work itself out as they write. All the same, to be successful they will know enough about writing skills so that the story has the right points of drama and conflict in the right places.

How do they know that? Writers must be readers!

Child reading in window seat - Willcox Smith
A Child’s Garden of Verses, Jessie W Smith, 1905. Wikimedia Commons

If there is one rule to become a writer, it is read, read, read, read. Read the kind of books you want to write. Read the poetry that is being written and published today if you want to write poetry. Go and watch live drama if you want to write plays. Read teen fantasy if you …… You’ve got the idea.

Think of violin players. They go to concerts. They listen to music … constantly. They jam with other musicians. They talk, live, dream, eat, sleep …. music.

But read widely, too, all sorts and everything. Read the old classics. Watch TV drama and cinema movies like a critic. Ask yourself, ‘How did they get that effect?’ This might be a good time to bring up the advice that student writers hear more than any other, ‘Show, don’t tell’. There is no voice-over in a movie to tell viewers ‘she felt sad’, ‘he felt angry’, ‘they were jealous’. Not unless you are watching a nature documentary. No, you see it. With practice, you too can make your readers see or hear how your characters feel.

If there is a second rule, it is write, write, write. Everyone gets better with practice. Think of violin players.

There are some great sites out there with writing tips, too.