The Difference Between Us (Maryanne Fantalis)

I struggled for a long time to come up with an idea for a post this month's topic: voice. Voice is one of those things that, as a writer, you understand but it can be hard to identify and describe. The most obvious examples of voice are in novels that are told in multiple first-person points of view. When you're reading a chapter and you can't tell which character is supposed to be narrating, that's when you know that the author doesn't have a strong sense of voice.

I write in first person, even though that isn't an obvious choice in historical or in romance. I do it because I've been told I have a powerful control of my characters' voices when I write in first person. When retelling the story of Shakespeare's play The Taming of the Shrew, I wanted to tell it from the shrew's point of view, in her own words, since her words were the reason she'd been labeled a shrew in the first place. If she wasn't given a chance to speak her own truth, how would we ever know who she truly was?

The difficulty in this choice -- the difficulty any time you choose to write in the first person -- is separating your own voice (as the author) from the "I" in the book (the character). Although  many of my main character Kate's experiences and opinions are infused with my own, she is her own person. At our cores, Kate and I are very different. Kate loves to argue, to dispute, to wrangle. It's part of her self-definition. In contrast, I am a peace-keeper, a conflict-avoider. I want everyone to be happy.

This made Kate very hard for me to write sometimes. There was one scene in particular where I had to struggle to let Kate have her voice.

The scene takes place at Sir William's keep, and Kate is utterly miserable. She has run away with Sir William even though he didn't show up at the church for their wedding because she thought at least with him, she'd get away from her awful family. But life with Sir William is hardly any better. So she's sitting on a stone wall outside the keep, talking to the only soul who might commiserate with her: her horse. Sir William interrupts their (one-sided) conversation and tries to reason with Kate.

He asks why, if everyone is beneath her, why does care so much what other people think?

Here's a bit of the scene, starting with Sir William's query:

“Aye. All these people who scorn and revile you, you expend so much effort to scorn and revile them in turn. And yet it appears to me that you consider all of God’s creation, including [the horse] here and my humble self, to be entirely beneath you, and so I have been wondering why it matters at all what such lowly creatures think of you?” He took a bite of the apple. “My lady.”
“You are one to speak of scorn, sir!” I swung my legs over the wall and jumped down. “I have only to look at the way you treat your servants—nay! I need only look at the way you behave to me! You are high-handed as a king! You care nothing for my feelings, my comfort, my health…. You would starve me to death—”
“You will not starve, Kate,” he said calmly.
“—you will not let me sleep, you keep me in this awful, filthy dress—”
“Yes,” he agreed, “it is quite an awful dress.”
“—but you deny me a new one! You do not treat me as a proper wife!”
“Why should I? You do not act as one.”
“And why should I? You did not properly marry me! You left me there, waiting at the church for the whole village to mock!”
“And I ask again, why do you care what those folk think?”
I stopped, breathing hard. “You gave them what they wanted—a figure of fun. Kathryn abandoned. It was what they expected all along. No one would marry Kathryn the shrew, not for any price.” I had to be careful or I might cry, and I would not cry, not in front of him.

Now, as I was writing this, there was a war going on in my head. Peace-keeper me responded to Sir William's calm, soothing tone and allowed Kate to be soothed, so in my head, Kate kept reacting positively to him. Like, "Oh, yes, of course you're right, Sir William, I'm being very foolish, why didn't I see it that way sooner?" I had to keep deleting Kate's responses as I typed, because I allowed my voice to take over. But this wasn't me speaking. It had to be Kate. Kate wouldn't agree with him; Kate would keep fighting, and rightly so. Kate would not allow her voice to be stifled. Kate would refuse to yield. It was one of the reasons Will loved her, and one of the reasons he kept trying to help her see that she didn't have to fight every battle alone, that he could be her partner. So I had to keep fighting for her, to quiet my own voice and allow Kate's voice to be heard.


  1. A great scene in a very enjoyable book. Voice is both fun and tricky. I'm not sure I've fully discovered mine. Sometimes snarky, often capable of arm wrestling Satan. Traveling that path of discovery is one of the better adventures a writer has.

  2. "Sometimes snarky, often capable of arm wrestling Satan." Sounds like something I'd like to read, Berek! Thanks for your kind words and for commenting.

  3. Totally agree about 1st person. It's so easy to let pieces of yourself leak through when you're using "I."


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