This week’s….belated…post will be about how characters themselves come alive on the page. But first, how about an update?
As of February 9, 2020 I have edited literally nothing. I have beta read a critique partner’s first draft and am getting ready to start the second. I have (jokingly, but maybe not) put together an impressive poster of writer advice I give, but don’t seem to follow. I have roughly five scenes left on a project I should have finished last month while I was “in it”. And probably most optimistically, I am six chapters and one random scene deep into Hart’s Betrayal.
Spoiler alert: you will laugh, you will hate to love one of the main characters, and there’s a good chance you might tear up a bit. In short, I’m freaking loving it!
But enough about that. You’re here for a post, an introspection, some tiny insight to the insanity of writing or at least pretending to write. 😉
This week I wanted to delve into the unique things that make characters the individuals we come to love, hate, cheer on, and ugly cry over. As any writer at any level could tell you, one of the most important things about writing is having a unique voice. Now, when this advice is given, it usually is alluding to the distinct style, prose, and structure an author uses to stand out from the crowd. But, I hold that this goes so much further. In any book there should in fact be several distinct voices, including the author’s.
Consider this: You have two protagonists (our heroes/heroines), an antagonist (the villain who might in fact be one of the perceived heroes as well), the best friend, that random side character (who I promise is important even if you can’t see it yet), and a narrator. Every last one of these perspectives should have their own distinct voice. I can literally pick up any WIP, read a few lines (no dialogue tags), and right away know which book it is, where it is in the story, and who is talking, sometimes even to whom.
Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking: Of course you know. YOU wrote it! Ah-ha! But that’s where you’re wrong. This should be possible with any book you know well enough to remember who the characters are. The key to knowing should be in their language choice, accent, attitude, delivery, side actions, and so much more. No different than any real, live, living person.
Now pop quiz. If everyone has their own voice, then who is the author’s?
None of them.
All of them.
If you’re very first inclination was to assume it would be the narrator, it’s an understandable leap. Still wrong, but understandable. Even this over-arching, featureless figure should possess their own unique perspective, it is what colors the reader’s interpretation of events. I promise, if you take a minute to think about it, it will make sense. By contrast, the author is in the details (yes, much like the devil). And just like you should be able to peg a character from their dialogue, you should also be able to recognize an author by their overall style.
If, for whatever reason, you feel like either of these deductions is beyond you, then you’re not giving yourself enough credit. Either that, or the author should probably spend more time in development. Not saying that’s a bad thing–we all go through it–honing your craft is not easy, but it is the ultimate goal.
So next time you’re reading a new book or re-reading an old favorite, think about the little things that make the characters stand out as individuals. What about the author’s style is so uniquely them? How many different voices are there? And if you could be so bold, share your discoveries with me. <3