Voice and Character Connectivity

I recently read a book. A well-crafted book written by an author I admire. And I didn’t love it.

I liked it. I powered through the whole book in a few days. The writing was strong. The premise was interesting. But I didn’t feel satisfied at the end.

The plot tied up pretty well. But something was missing.

There were characters I liked. But I didn’t connect with the protagonist. I didn’t like his voice. And that made it impossible to enjoy the journey with him.

It stopped me from being immersed in the book. It made everything slightly less believable to me.

And suddenly it clicked.

When an agent writes, I didn’t connect with the character or the voice in response to your partial, this is what they mean.

It was like, not love.

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32 Responses to Voice and Character Connectivity

  1. It’s so tough isn’t it. When a writer receives a rejection they really need to know the reasons why to be able to work on them, but an agent simply doesn’t have time to give that feedback when they receive so many submissions!

    • I would hope agents can give a one line response to fulls and possibly to partials just explaining why they rejected it. I totally understand that queries can’t be given feedback nor should they. There are plenty of online groups, conferences, workshops, even charity auctions to help write a query letter. And a query letter is the first step. No explanation needed for a rejection there. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. It's the little things that make life great.berry says:

    Know what u mean.

  3. Jenny says:

    Now the hard part…incorporating what you learned into your own novel. It’s something I still struggle with. Great post!

    • Thanks for stopping by Jenny! LOL. I don’t think it’s possible. Someone will love my voice, someone will hate it. The only thing I can do is develop a distinct voice for my character and see how betas respond to it. But inevitably there will be readers who will not like my voice and may not like my novel.

  4. themadgayman says:

    Voice is key in understanding a character, empathizing with a character, emotionally and psychologically. If we can’t understand them, or feel connected with them, it leaves us disliking the character.

    Many people feel this way about Katniss in Hunger Games. They say she’s too wooden, too selfish in her thoughts. I, however, understood her situation: she had to fight against the world, not just the Hunger Games. And unfortunately, she didn’t really get a choice in it all. She was a bit of a puppet if you think about it. So, I connect with her a lot coming from a life where I do everything for everyone because I try making everyone else happy instead of focusing on myself.

    If someone’s character cannot get you to join in, to feel the character’s pain, sadly yes, they’ve failed. But it doesn’t mean give up. Oh no. If anything, it means you get to explore. You get to take another journey with your character. Don’t give up!

    • I think everyone cannot connect with every character. So it’s okay when an agent says I didn’t connect with your voice. Sure, you should take another look at your voice and character development, but it’s wicked subjective and there may be absolutely nothing wrong with your voice. It just might not be to their liking. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I don’t know that the writer failed here. I mean this book was published and enjoyed good sales. Some people loved it. I just didn’t. Though I did learn that even published books can have a voice that doesn’t hook me.

      I haven’t read Hunger Games. I really really despise dystopian. I may read it at some point because it looks very very well written, but the premise and concept totally disengage me as a reader. Again, individual taste rears its head. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Marc Schuster says:

        I like your point that a everyone can’t connect with every character. It really is a matter of taste, which also takes some of the sting out of rejection. It’s also heartening to know that there’s no formula for creating universally sympathetic characters — it speaks to the vast diversity of readers in the world.

        • Thanks for stopping by Marc! Voice is very subjective. The only time it isn’t is when the agent says, this piece doesn’t have a strong voice. Then you have something to work on. If they just don’t connect with your voice, well, bravo for having voice. And here is the subjective sting of things–you didn’t do anything wrong, but you aren’t going to get that agent’s attention. I agree there cannot be a universally sympathetic character–I realized what turned me off about the character and didn’t work for me–but it was specific to me. Others may adore him. Hope I find the agent who connects with my voice soon. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • themadgayman says:

        It’s true. If one person says they cannot connect with the character, it doesn’t mean someone else can’t or doesn’t. I was just making a point that even if you feel you failed in voice, just try again and take it as a chance to travel with your character again.

        • Ah, that is a good point. ๐Ÿ™‚ Sorry, I thought you meant if one person couldn’t connect with the voice, you had to scrap it and start over.

          I tell myself “Never give up! Revise, Re-envision, but stay true to your story.”

          I did receive feedback from an agent that my character did not evolve enough over the story–that was something I definitely had to revisit. I went back and expanded her arc so she makes a huge shift by the end of the book.

  5. Insightful post, Kourtney. And I respect the fact that you didn’t list the book and authorโ€”not that there’s anything wrong with doing so. It’s all so subjective…

    I wonder if the author wrote that character because he/she thought they ‘should.’ When I went against my instincts to follow another’s advice, the character in question ended up falling flat. Another clue: I didn’t much like her. LOL Such a learning curve!

    • August, I don’t like writing anything negative about a book and naming it. That’s just a personal rule. And the thing was, this was a well-written book by a well respected author. But the character likability wasn’t there for me. The voice didn’t connect with me. And I’m sure there are people who read it and were sucked into the protagonist’s head. I wasn’t.

      That is a good point though. A character can be flat when they are created that way. But I think that is a different issue. I can’t say the character was flat here. Just that I didn’t click with him. Major learning curve. I am revising a book I thought was read a year ago and queried widely. *Doink* It needed serious triage.

  6. Cat Forsley says:

    HEY MISS K …..
    GOOD POST
    WE GOTTA CONNECT THROUGH THE PERSPECTIVE – VIEWPOINT – SOUL REALLY –
    IF WE DON’T
    THEN WE DISCONNECT FROM THE WHOLE BOOK —–
    FELT LIKE THAT A GAZILLION TIMES …….
    YOU WRITE SO WELL –
    CONNECTION ———– IT’S IN BROADEST OF TERMS
    IF WE DON’T CONNECT – BECAUSE OF A SIMILARITY OR SOMETHING THAT PASSIONS US UP
    THEN WE DROP IT …….
    ๐Ÿ™‚ LOVE YOUR WORK XX
    ๐Ÿ™‚ C

    • I try not to drop a book when things are going wrong. ๐Ÿ™‚ Weirdly enough, I learn more from reading a book I don’t like than reading one I do like. Because knowing what disengages me teaches me things I might do wrong in my own writing.

      But voice is a tough one. Because I do not think the author did a single thing wrong. He wrote a great book, I just couldn’t connect or care about the main character.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective. It’s always lovely to hear from you Catherine. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Cat Forsley says:

        THAT’S A GOOD LESSON XX
        I READ EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN – LOL

        IT’S CONNECTION — YOU ARE SO RIGHT –
        IT’S NOT WRONG OR RIGHT – IT JUST IS …….
        AND WE LEARN FROM CHARACTER VOICES WE MAY NOT BE PULLED TOO ….
        YOU ALWAYS GIVE ME INSIGHT MISS XO
        THANKS XX

        • Good for you Catherine! Reading widely is so important to writing. Connection is such a personal thing and I completely agree it just is there or not. No judgment. Definitely learn about writing and ourselves. Because what disengages me in a character’s voice is very very specific to me. You are very insightful. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. sportsjim81 says:

    Great post, short and sweet and made a great point. This is something I plan to pay attention to as I begin the writing phase of my novel. I feel a strong connection with my MC, but will others? That’s the tough part sometimes.

    • Thanks for stopping by Jim! I try to keep it short since I post often. I think the hardest part is to create likability on page one. You have to give the reader a hint of why they want to spend 12 hours with this character. Even if he’s a jerk, there has to be something that grabs them. Good luck! ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. crubin says:

    As sportsjim81 said, just because we feel a connection to our characters doesn’t mean others will. I suspect I would have a hard time not taking it personally if an agent, editor, or other reader pointed that out. But I’d better get over that if I want to produce a work that will resonate with others.

    Nice post!

    • That’s very true. I think determining a problem takes several agents’ feedback. If every one of them pointed to a problem connecting with the voice, then the voice may have an issue. But my feedback was a couple “I didn’t connect with your voice” and several “I love your voice, but…”

      It’s okay to get upset by feedback, but I think you have to take time to process it and always react professionally. I’m learning to distance myself from the rejection. Or rather to feel the pain but move on to process the feedback with some emotional distance. It’s taken many rejections to reach this point. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks for stopping by, Carrie!

  9. jmmcdowell says:

    Great post and illustration of the fact that no book can resonate with every reader. A lot of people probably enjoyed the book you wrote about, but there were undoubtedly others like you.

    So many people I know loved “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” but I just could not connect to the characters. And so I never finished it. But that doesn’t mean anything was wrong with itโ€”or with me. The book and I just didn’t click.

    I hope this post helps fellow writers looking for an agent not to get discouraged if one replies as they did to you. The next agent might love their characters and voice and offer that contract.

    • Thanks JM! That is exactly what I was trying to say.

      You hit the nail right on the head–nothing was wrong with you or the book–you simply didn’t click. And that happens.

      It’s funny because when I got that agent response, I didn’t get what they said. I was certain the book had great voice and I obviously connected really well with it. It took me a long time to realize voice and character connectivity are subjective. There’s a huge difference between not having voice and someone not connecting with your voice

      I hope so too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. You’re right! You can find a book with an unappealing protagonist interesting, but you don’t really fall in love. Good way of putting it.

    • Thanks! I wasn’t hooked and found myself doubting the believability of things as I read. All because I hadn’t connected well with the protagonist. But I could not point to any aspect as wrong with the book. Just that it wasn’t the right read for me. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. mj monaghan says:

    Great comment, Kourtney. We always think what we write is either really bad (and may not be), or really good (and also may not be).

    Very interesting. It’s too bad you didn’t love it, but you have to be honest.

    • I loved a previous novel by this writer so I was a bit surprised that I didn’t love this one. But from the getgo I had trouble relating to and connecting with the protagonist. I don’t think that was in any way the writer’s fault. Just a clear example of how voice and character connectivity are super subjective and that one agent not connecting with your voice doesn’t mean there is something wrong with it.

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