Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Author Speaks: Character Building and Voice



I often have opportunity to read pieces, chapters, and whole novels from burgeoning authors. I have discovered that while many are adept storytellers, getting to the action and revealing twists and turns that make for a compelling story, I can’t tell their characters apart. In the rush to tell the story, many authors forget about developing relatable characters.

Do your characters have a unique voice? Does the reader know who is speaking just from the way the characters talk and the words they use? In the real world people have accents and use colloquial terms. Do you always speak in complete sentences? Do you know someone who uses particular words or phrases regularly in their speech? We all know at least one guy who calls everyone “dude”. I had a friend who used “to make a long story short” in all her stories. They were never short. But this was an endearing quality of hers that I ended up using for a character in my book. It’s the idiosyncrasies that define personalities. The things that ultimately make us special are not necessarily the big actions we take but the subtle differences that make us unique.


When developing a character, I picture them; their clothes, their hair, the sound of their voice. All these figure into their manner of speaking. What is the character’s backstory? Even minor characters have to come from someplace. Are they country? City? Educated?  You get where I’m going with this.

Recently, I read a blog post which asked if modern books have lost something with their lack of description. As attention spans get shorter with the digital, I want it now lifestyles of today, many readers have no patience for flowery exposition and description. As we lose scene description, our characters become one dimensional. So sad.


In one of her books about the Mayfair witches, Anne Rice described a neighborhood street in New Orleans. While I can’t even remember which book it was from and I certainly can’t quote the passage, I can tell you everything about that street. She transported me there. That street became a character with its’ big oak trees lining the path, reaching over to create a leafy canopy. The sidewalk was broken and uneven, lifted out of place by the roots of the ancient trees. The ornate fence surrounding the property was rusted but still beautiful. I can feel the warm breeze on my face. I can see the old manse standing like a timeless soldier, guarding the secrets behind its’ doors.

She gave that street a unique voice and it has stayed with me for decades. Human (or inhuman) characters certainly deserve the same treatment.
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