Class Session Number Five: Voice and Setting

How does voice lead to setting?

-Research goes a long way in creating authentic characters, setting, and voice. This is a huge task to get right.

-According to Naomi Jackson, author of The Star Side of Bird Hill, “purposeful inquisitiveness” consists of “asking questions with an eye to using it in your novel. And you might use only ten percent of what you find out. But these questions can really enrich” it.

-Developing a stance of inquisitiveness towards the world, particularly towards the world you’re trying to create is a really important strategy while you’re writing and researching.

-Fully utilizing the different senses to develop the language of your novel’s world.

But before I get into the various senses, what exactly is voice?

Voice is an expression of a mentality-how your characters see the world.

Re: sight: if your locale is not fictitious and you can go there, it’s prudent to do so. Take a lot of photos, sightsee as much as possible, and look back on them often.


-Listen to people talk and how they talk, not just their vocabulary (though that is important,) but also the syntax used. The rhythm of their sentences.

-Find ways to clearly distinguish the voices of your characters. In this way, it’s possible and recommended that the writer discover ways to convey emotion through dialogue, one’s actions, and body language.

Taste and Touch

-What do a lot of the (not necessarily) exotic foods taste like? What do they smell like? Are they visually pleasing or repulsive? Describe their unique textures. As we research these myriad of things, it’s like we’re living vicariously through our characters, if only for a moment.

The setting itself can be a character. This only goes to show you just how incredibly crucial research is.

“Imagination is a writer’s best friend.”

El Salvadoran author, Horacia Castellanos Moya, says it’s absolutely essential for him to find the voice (which isn’t necessarily his character’s voices, as he could be hearing the voice of the third person narration,) in order to keep writing, or begin to write…If he lacks that, he’s lost. “The voice is going to give the atmosphere, the speed or velocity of the narration, and in general, it will define the relationship between the text and the writing.

“Everything is interrelated.”

But how do you build your voice?

Moya primarily relies on intuition, and his is determined by how much empathy he has toward the character or the narrator. He stresses that of course, every writer is different and so their methods are going to vary, as well. He also says not to judge the morality of the characters you’re writing about. It does not matter if they’re killers, a Good Samaritan, or someone that’s wholly indifferent to the world. Take all of your personal values, thoughts, convictions and beliefs and shove them in a drawer. This allows empathy to thrive. And the more empathy you feel towards them the deeper you can see into their world, and how they see it. This is optimal, for you want to immerse yourself utterly in their world, almost like you’re invading their mind.

“Voice influences setting.”

Moya works mostly by ear, so therefore it isn’t surprising that finding the story’s voice is so crucial to him.

Always trust your intuition. As Stephen King says in On Writing, the first word is usually right. Not always, but usually. Also, try not to fret about what the reader might or might not think. Write for yourself, as if you’re writing in secret and no one will ever read it (many thanks again, Tosca!)

Range and Voice

-The range of the text and employment of voice is determined by the writer’s personality–how she/he perceives reality.

-Recognize your strengths and weaknesses and play on those strengths.

-Some works are more voice driven than others.


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