Changing With The Times


Harold Lloyd

I have discovered that my protagonist speaks differently at different times of the day.

After reading Kisa Whipkey’s splendid post How To Fix The Morphing Voice earlier this week, I started to notice my own oscillations (as it were!) I began considering not only how to fix these, but why the morphing began in the first place.

It’s partially due to the same problem of being a slow writer – there’s a lot of life going on outside the writing, which makes the process more protracted than I’d like. That naturally affects the flow of scenes.

But I also discovered that my narrator’s voice depends very much on the time of day. In the mornings, he’s bouncier, wittier and more free-flowing. By the afternoon, he’s fairly easy-going but somewhat more verbose, with a tendency toward flippant sarcasm. As evening rolls in, he becomes contemplative and philosophical. Or drunk.

I don’t have the kind of daily routine which permits me to write at the same time every day, so it’s a challenge I have to endure. Yeah, OK, ‘endure’ is a bit over-the-top, but you get my drift daddy-o.

Does anyone else find the same vocal time-shifts creeping in? How do you overcome them?


9 thoughts on “Changing With The Times

  1. This is really interesting. I haven’t noticed this in my writing, but I haven’t really been looking for it. I’ll have to pay better attention to see if this is an issue. Like you, I don’t get to write at the same time every day so that could be problematic.


    • It’s surprising the number of things you discover about your writing when you get a chance to stand back and look at it from afar. All those oddities you don’t see when you’re wrapped up in the thick of actually writing.


  2. I’ve edited quite a few books and worked with many writers of all levels of experience and proficiency, and have seen this problem a lot. In general, it seems, character inconsistencies are indicative of a lack of focus or familiarity. If the character is fully formed in your mind (to the extent that you could, without much thought, dash off a decent bio), then their tone, opinions, verbal tics, etc., will come naturally. Indeed, it becomes almost impossible to ‘hear’ them speaking any other way.

    Prior to achieving that familiarity, at an early stage of development, try not to agonise over dialogue (or anything else for that matter!) — focus on getting down what comes naturally, and move on. Come back later and polish for consistent voice, world view, etc. It’ll be a lot easier once you really know your characters. It can also help your continuity and flow if the story unfolds in your mind quicker, so get the broad strokes first and fill in the detail later.


  3. Yes, I’ve noticed it in my writing, but I don’t worry about it in the first/second draft. As a fellow “Basher” where 2k is a good day, the narrative voice changes depending on my ability to tune out the rest of the world, and on what it is I’m writing. In rewrite, I can go back and even it out.

    One place I have trouble, though, is in my characters’ voices. I like each main character’s dialogue to be fairly distinctive–I don’t want the all to sound like me. A technique I learned (from back in my Dickens’ Fair days, when we had to slip into character ourselves) is to give each main character a catch-phrase that typifies their patterns of speech. Alternatively, I can model their speech pattern after an actor’s voice (though I don’t like that as much).

    But again, I don’t sweat these too much in first/second drafts. Probably why I hate rewrites…


    • I like the tip on the catch-phrase, thanks for that. It was recently pointed out to me that all my characters sounded the same. I’m fixing that in the re-write (or trying to anyway) and finding that I have a tendency to veer into caricature if I’m not very careful. One of my characters is now dangerously close to an Edwardian sideshow announcer… I’ll have a crack at the catch-phrase (although I suspect his is now “Roll up and tickle the bearded lady!”)


  4. Thanks for the shout out! 🙂

    That’s quite the interesting dilemma you have. I can’t say I’ve run into that one yet, but I wouldn’t doubt it will show up soon. Probably in my nemesis of a WIP, since it seems plagued with every other issue under the sun! Sorry, mini-rant of frustration. Anyway, back to your issue; do you think it’s indicative of your mood? Do the shifts coincide with the time of day you’re actually writing/wrote in? And are you sure it’s actually a problem?

    People tend to shift moods throughout the day, and the way we interact with others changes accordingly. For example, I’d say your character is a morning person. He’s happiest at the beginning of the day. By the afternoon, he’s had a day full of irritating people and things he can’t control, and is suffering from DILIGAF (Does it look like I give a %*&$?). And then, by evening, he’s tired, over people and their issues and becomes introverted instead. Hey, you know, that kind of sounds like how my day goes…;P

    So, I suppose, assess whether or not the voice shift is actually a problem, as in it’s an actual shift in narrative style, or whether it’s simply adapting to the character’s alternating perspectives accordingly.


    • DILIGAF – love it!!!! 😀

      You’ve raised a fascinating observation there actually – my character is the exact opposite of me. I’m anything BUT a morning person and most definitely come into my own later in the day. At least, once the DILIGAF of work is over…

      The shift in style is more related to the time of day that I’m writing, rather than the time of day it is for Dan (hey, I think you know him well enough by now to be formally introduced). It’s very interesting to suddenly start wondering whether what I put my characters through during their days is a reflection of how I’m feeling at the time of day I’m writing it. I always try to step outside of everything that is/has been going on when I write. But maybe I’ve not been as successful as I thought. Hmmmmm.

      A truly thought-provoking response Kisa, thank you! Now, off to make Dan suffer until I’ve had my second coffee of the morning 😉


  5. Hmm, now that’s interesting. I wrote my novel mostly on the train journey to and from work, so I have morningitis, and eveningitis. What brings them together is that in both instances, I am time-limited, what pulls them apart is that they are at opposite ends of the day. Now in editing mode, and staring down the barrel of a lot of tightening up and much red pen usage – I am doing that at weekends. I think the editing voice will bring it all together, and likely change it beyond first draft! Thought-provoking – thank you!


    • I’m very familiar with Train Journey Syndrome as well; much of my novel was also written on the trip to and from work. Changing jobs and moving house meant a shift to driving and a consequent shift in writing patterns – and I’m finding, much like you, that writing & editing in the evenings and at weekends is helping to even out the voice. Best of luck with the edits – a hideous but necessary task!


Tell me what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s