How To Write a Novel — Voice

Day 7 of writing my novel in public

I’ve started something scary here on Medium. It’s something I’ve done before, but never in public. I have a process that I’m going to follow, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you want to follow the journey from the start, go here.

If you missed yesterday’s, you can find it here.

Photo by Artur Voznenko on Unsplash

Day 7 — Voice

Today I face my biggest challenge yet as I want to discover the voice of my characters. I will not get them completely, but I want to hear how they sound, how they think, what makes them them. In order to do this, I’m going to write a scene for my protagonist and antagonist — their first contact. Yesterday I did some quick planning on what that scene might be like, what motivates the two of them in the scene and the outcome. Today I’ll write the scene using a timer to get a first draft.

I’ve been using two books I love as guidebooks in my writing process — The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis and Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. Before launching into writing a scene of my own, I’m going to look at the first contact scenes in each of these.

In particular, I’m looking for the voice of these two characters.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I’ve identified the main character as Edmund and the antagonist as the White Witch. The first time these two meet is when Edmund has followed Lucy into Narnia and the White Witch arrives on her sleigh. It begins at the end of Chapter Three — Edmund and the Wardrobe and continues through most of Chapter Four — Turkish Delight.

The White Witch speaks in a very formal and commanding voice.

“And how, pray, did you come to enter my dominions?”

When she decides he could be useful, her voice changes less commanding and more seductive.

“Perhaps something hot to drink?” said the Queen. “Should you like that?”

Edmund is initially cowed by the Queen’s presence and speaks awkwardly.

“I’m-I’m-my name’s Edmund.”

He is polite.

“Turkish Delight, please, your Majesty,” said Edmund.

But as he warms up and enjoys the Turkish Delight, he becomes argumentative and rude, more like we have seen him speak before.

“There’s nothing special about them,” said Edmund, “and, anyway, I could always bring them some other time.”

Gangsta Granny

I’ve identified the main character as Ben and the antagonist as Mr Parker. The first time these two meet is in Chapter 14 Nosy Neighbour.

Mr Parker, we are told, speaks in a nasal voice. He is abrupt, direct and rude.

“Who are you?” he barked, nasally.

Most of his speech is short direct sentences, but he says slightly more when he loses his temper.

“Naked yoga?! A likely story! I need to talk to your grandmother right away. Now get out of my way, you nasty little worm of a boy!”

When he finds Granny in her underwear, embarrassment changes his speech to respectful.

“Excuse me, Madam, but I need to ask you, where are those jewels I saw a moment ago?”

Ben tries to keep Mr Parker outside, but the tension in the situation makes his voice squeaky and he blurts out a lie.

“I am Granny’s friend,” spluttered Ben.

He tries to be polite, but becomes more direct as Mr Parker gets closer to the living room.

“I mean grandson, Mr Parker, sir…” said Ben…

“I’m not lying!” cried Ben….

“You can’t go in there!” yelled Ben…

After Mr Parker has gone, he relaxes back into his normal jokey self.

“OK,” said Ben. “But first…”

“Yes, Ben?”

“You might want to get dressed.”

Context changes voice

From this brief analysis, I can see that the characters each have a distinct voice, but they modulate it depending on who they are talking to and how they are feeling. It will be important to establish a general voice for my characters but also consider those variations in the scene.

My main character is called Charlie Quick. He is an 11-year-old boy who loves baking and can ‘see’ smells. I think his basic mode of speech will be direct, to blurt out what he sees, which will include being able to see how people are feeling from their smell, but then try to cover up so as not to reveal his abilities.

My antagonist is called Miasmus. He is a perfumer who loves to eat smelly foods but covers them up with his signature scent — Petal. His basic speech will be flowery, over the top and full of platitudes but will cover up an underlying hate of people that will come out when he’s stressed.


Yesterday I did a quick exercise to understand my character Miasmus and his excessive hair. I wasn’t completely happy with it, and so I’m going to work on it more today. A few ideas came to me about this antagonist and how Charlie sees him.

First, I was considering his clothing and I see him as wearing a grey shiny suit, with grey reflective shoes and a tie which is a slighter darker shade of grey. I’ll tame back the black hair to a nest of rats’ tails on his head, slicked against his skull and wispy curls of hair escaping from his ears and nose.

Charlie sees his smell as a pink, wavy halo around him. It is the signature scent Petal produced by his company, and Charlie has seen it before but Miasmus’ is bigger and bolder. As Miasmus becomes stressed, though, a brown zig-zag pong leaks out.

I also see Miasmus with two pet pigs called Boo and Kay (get it?). They don’t smell bad — to Charlie lilac curls surround them. They wear nappies and eat everything, just like Miasmus.

First contact scene

Okay, so I’m ready to draft the first contact scene. Charlie has entered a cupcake competition at the local bakery. Whoever wins will become their cupcake supplier and win the golden whisk. Miasmus is the competition judge. Charlie has his secret cupcake recipe sealed in an envelope. Just as Miasmus is about to announce the winner, a terrible stench forces them to evacuate the bakers.

I’m going to do two 30 minute sprints on the clock to write the first draft of this scene.

Charlie could feel the excitement tingling from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. The bakery stood before him. Normally there would be a line of people queueing to buy the delicious bread from the hatch but today everyone was inside for the competition. In fact, there were so many people there that Charlie had to squeeze between the legs of a man to get inside.

The noise inside of all those people echoed round the warehouse space. Charlie elbowed his way forward towards where a stage had been constructed at the front. Normally this is where all the cafe tables sat for people eating breakfast but today they had cleared them away and the crowd of people pushed against one another as though at a rock concert. A rock bun concert thought Charlie. But his entry wasn’t a rock bun. It was a cupcake. He could see it up on the stand where the finalist entries sat.

Mr Needem, the head baker stood next to them. He had on a large cook’s apron. Both his arms were oversized, muscled from all the stirring and kneading of dough he did. He was a big believer in doing things by hand, though they had giant mixing machines as well. The most expensive bread came from Mr Needem’s own mixing bowl.

Now he turned his round, smiling face to the three final entries in the cake competition. Behind them on a plinth Charlie could see the golden whisk, the prize for the winner. The fluorescent lights glinted off the spokes, but Charlie was more interested in the other part of the prize. Mr Needem had promised that whichever cake won today, he would make them an exclusive supplier to the bakery. After all the success with bread, he wanted to branch out into cakes and whoever won would be his chosen cake maker. Charlie longed to be that person.

Mr Needem raised one arm, and the crowd fell silent as he picked up the first of the entries. It was a nutty brownie in the shape of a handbag. From his place near the back, Charlie couldn’t smell it over the scents of the crowd, but Mr Needham took a sniff then bit a small bite off. He chewed thoughtfully, then wrote something down in his notebook.

Next, he moved along to the second entry. This was a slice of cake, but you wouldn’t have known it from looking at it. It was in the shape of a mobile phone. Mr Needham lifted it to his ear, and the crowd laughed. He took a sniff.

“Blueberry and white chocolate,” he said, smiling. He took a bite from the handset and chewed slowly before swallowing. A broad grin spread across his face as he noted the second score down in his notebook.

Charlie wished that he had done something more fancy now. He hadn’t thought that the appearance was all that important. He was much more focussed on the flavour, and, of course, the smell. His cupcake was just that. A cupcake shaped cupcake. Mr Needham frowned as he peered at it, and Charlie’s insides squirmed.

“Not much to look at,” said Mr Needham picking up the cake. He lifted it to his nostrils and sniffed. Charlie held his breath, imagining the lemon and marshmallow flavours lifting from the cake. Mr Needem closed his eyes and wobbled slightly. Then, still with his eyes shut, he took a bite. Charlie was going blue in the face, but he dared not breathe yet.

Mr Needem’s eyes opened wide, and he took another bite. And another. In a few seconds, he had devoured the whole cupcake and was licking the crumbs from his fingers. His eyes shone with delight as he lifted the notebook and scrawled something down.

“Very good,” he said, “Very good indeed.” Charlie took a deep breath.

Mr Needem looked somewhere over to the side of the room, where one of his bakers nodded at him.

“And now, I am pleased to announce that we have a very special guest here today to present the prize. You know him as the perfume king. The man who can make anyone smell good. Please welcome Miasmus.”

There was a sharp intake of breath from someone in the crowd and then a side door opened and a figure strode into the room. Charlie had seen him on tele before in adverts for his signature scent Petal. The perfumer known as Miasmus was a tall man in a very shiny suit. His hair was a black nest of rats tails plastered onto his head. Stray wisps of hair curled like smoke from his ears and a few cheeky strands from his nose as well. He made his way towards the makeshift stage pursued by his two pet pigs. They walked proudly behind, wearing a nappy each. One had a collar that said ‘Boo’ and the other one had a collar that said ‘Kay’.

Miasmus, Boo and Kay mounted the steps onto the stage, as Mr Needham shook hands with the great perfumer and then whispered something in his ear before stepping down.

Miasmus smiled at the crowd and raised both arms for quiet, though you could have heard a pin drop.

“Gentlefolk, it is my great pleasure to have been invited here to present this prize today. Mr Needem, my esteemed colleague and business-friend, is expanding into cakes and I want to congratulate him and encourage him in this enterprise. We are both seducers of the senses. Myself with my perfumes, and he with his bread. Mr Needham wants to congratulate all the entrants into this most competitive of competitions, but he has chosen but one winner. And that winner is…”

Miasmus paused, and Charlie thought he would burst with anticipation. Then he said a name, which didn’t register with Charlie. He turned to the woman next to him.

“What did he say?”

The woman leaned down, “He said Charlie Quick.”

That’s me, thought Charlie. “That’s me,” he said.

“Then you better get up there then,” said the woman, giving him a gentle push towards the stage.

Charlie heard the surrounding crowd applauding wildly. As he made his way forward, the people in front parted to the sides, forming a corridor that led him up to the steps and on to the stage.

Miasmus took hold of Charlie’s hand and raised it in the air. The crowd cheered. Charlie felt his cheeks going warm and inside his stomach was dancing a conga.

Up close, Charlie could see how Miasmus smelt. He had been close to other people wearing Petal and Miasmus had that same pink, wavy halo around him, but in his case, it was much stronger. The two pet pigs, Boo and Kay, did not smell bad. Lilac curls surrounded them.

Miasmus leant down to talk to Charlie.

“Do you have your recipe on you?” he whispered.

“Yes,” Charlie patted his trouser pocket.

“Fabulous,” his grin widened. “This must all be such an overwhelming experience for someone not accustomed to the limelight. Do you want to give it to me, and I’ll make sure it stays safe?”

“I’m good, thanks,” said Charlie. He now noticed that beneath the pink halo around Miasmus there was another smell, a sort of brown zig-zag odour that was far less pleasant. Charlie took a step away from him.

The grin on Miasmus’ face stayed, but his eyes turned cold. “Give it me, boy.” He took a step towards Charlie.

Charlie turned to find Mr Needem pinning him in from the other side.

“Everything alright?” Mr Needham said.

“Of course my baking buddy,” said Miasmus, “I was just asking Charlie here what his secret was.”

“Oh, well, that’s between me and him. Trade secrets. You understand?”

“Absolutely. Of course, no problem.” Miasmus turned and stepped down off the stage.

Mr Needem picked up the golden whisk from the plinth and offered it to Charlie.

“Here you go, partner. Well deserved. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything quite so light and fluffy and amazing.”

“Thank you,” said Charlie, going to take the whisk.

At that moment, someone in the crowd wretched. It wasn’t just a clearing of the throat or a slight cough. It was a full on wretch as someone dry vomited. Charlie noticed a dark cloud of smell rising from the ground upwards. It was a black fog with clutching claws, rising with every second.

“Ewww, someone’s let off,” shouted a voice.

“It’s those pigs,” said another.

Someone in the crowd screamed, and suddenly everyone was pushing to get out.

Charlie knew it wasn’t the pigs. They were away from the black stench heading towards the side door. Mr Needham held his nose as he said, “I stink we better get out of ‘ere”

Charlie let himself be led down the steps and onto the floor where panic had made people crush against one another. Some were trying to get out the front entrance, whilst others made for the side. Shouts filled the air. Charlie felt himself buffeted back and forth as though he were a buoy on the sea. Arms and legs bumped him from every side.

Still the black cloud rose, clawing at people’s faces as it did. Charlie lifted his face above and took a deep breath, then followed Mr Needem as he used his beefy arms to plough a path through towards the front.

Eventually, they burst out onto the street outside. People stood around, coughing and spluttering and bent double.

“It’s gone,” said Mr Needham in a small voice.

“What’s gone?” said Charlie.

“The trophy. The golden whisk. I must have dropped it.”

“Or someone took it,” said Charlie.

Then he spotted Miasmus making his way towards them. A nasty brown zig-zag tinged his pink glow. And Charlie also noticed that around his hands there was a faint cloud of the black, clawing gas.

“It was you,” he said, as Miasmus stepped up to them.

“Whatever do you mean?” said Miasmus.

“You were the one who released the gas,” said Charlie.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Why would I do that? Maybe you’re delirious from the smell. What nonsense you’re saying.”

“I know it was you,” said Charlie, his anger rising now.

Mr Needham gave him a stare. “Let’s not go throwing accusations around. Why would Miasmus do something like that? He’s a respectable business owner, not a vandal.”

“I don’t know why, I just know he did.”

“How do you know? What’s your proof?”

Charlie was about to tell him about the black cloud, but then he stopped. How could he explain it without giving himself away? He was trapped.

“He has no such thing,” said Miasmus triumphantly. “I would be careful before collaborating with someone who throws accusations around like confetti.”

“Well,” said Mr Neeedham, “Let’s not be hasty. He made a most excellent cupcake.”

“Did he though? Maybe he just claimed he did. Has he the recipe to prove it?”

“I’m sure he has,” said Mr Needham, “Don’t you Charlie?”

Charlie reached into his pocket to give him the envelope with the recipe inside, but his pocket was empty. The recipe was gone.


Day 7 and I wrote a draft of the first contact scene between my main character Charlie and the antagonist Miasmus. It is far from perfect, but it is only a first draft. I have worked on the voice of Charlie and Miasmus, but would need to work more on the dialogue. Already I’m not sure about the gender of the characters. There are many details that I can improve and I’ll look at places to introduce more humour.

Tomorrow I will look at creating another important character — the ally.

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If you want to try the process with me and write your own novel, I’d love to have you join me on this journey. Put in the comments on how you went with this step.

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