Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thoughts on Creating Character Voice

Character voice isn't something I write in a first draft. While I certainly try to give the characters as much of their own personality as possible, I don't feel as if I really know them until after I've finished. Over the course of the book, they develop their own speech patterns and word choices, they use different expressions, but it's spotty. I still have to edit so that I can make it all consistent.

But I don't think "voice" rests just in dialogue, and I think that the details of characterization and those of speech should work together, creating an overall feel to the character. When a reader reacts to a character's voice they're usually talking about the overall experience of the character. If these two elements are in tune with one another, they reinforces that character. When they're out of sync and conflict with one another, a character may not have a clear overall impression. Which, sometimes, could be the point.

Once I finish the first draft and have a firm grasp of the character and their motivations, I go back and edit for characterization. First I work on any section in which they have a POV, and start working in hints at their motivations, and any factors from their past which might influence those motivations. I start with the POV sections because they're the places where the character can express motivations most clearly and it gives me an overview of when, how, and why those motivations change.

While the changes may take place outside their POV, I'm able to pinpoint the changes and figure out exactly how I want to show that transition. Even if I can't show that change from the character's own POV, I can hint at the reasons there, and elaborate on them when the character's next POV rolls around.

Next, I work on the POVs of the characters who know them best. I work in the signs that those characters can see in them, so they're more subtle clues, but if I need to make something particularly clear maybe the POV character will make an observation about the character I'm working on.

Most of the time, only the subtlest hints go in any other POV. Sometimes nothing more than the observation of a shared glance, or a half-noticed wince.

I like to deal with multiple POVs, I like the idea of showing all the different characters and trying to reveal something about them, even the bad guys. So it takes time to layer all that in. I sometimes get frustrated because it doesn't all come at once, but that's the good thing about multiple drafts and readers! You have time and crit to help you add all of that stuff in.

How do you add character to your characters? Do you find you have to go back an add it in or do you find they start speaking for themselves even in the first draft?


And, completely off topic, sorry about the craziness with the posts. Blogger ate the last post (10 Must Read Blogs and Sites) during it's outage, and then I re-posted it and then Blogger brought it back. So Facebook and Twitter got a little spammed because the post came up so often. So, sorry! :-D


Celebcùen said...

Hi Mary :-)

It’s a nice post, especially because you work so different from me. Yes, my case is the one you suggested last: my characters usually start speaking to me while I’m writing the first draft. That’s actually one of the best part of the first draft for me (first draft sucks you blood, you know).

The nicest experience is when you put a character in and he/she just do everything by themselves. Happens all the time to me.
For example, in my current WIP, I put in one of the… well he used to be ‘one of the characters’ but now he’s one of the more important. Adam: he started off like a weird guy, maybe a bit lost. Let’s say I just used him for plot purposes. And one of the other characters, Mat… well, let me tell you how much I love Mat! He started out like just one of the musicians and then he took up a big part of the story, and one of the more fan to write.
But this is not the point. About halfway through the trilogy, Adam and Mat have a conversation about Mat’s problem with alcohol and Adam offers an agreement to him, such that if Mat accepts, Adam won’t fire him.
Well, I don’t know what happened, I never planed it, the two characters just spoke to each other and… I don’t know, they changed while I was writing and especially Adam came out from that conversation completely changed. So changed, in fact, that now I’m reworking the first novel I can’t even recognise him.

So this is what I usually do: I let the characters find their own way, then when I rewrite I know their true selves far better than I did when I started the story, and I just adjust their first appearances to what they finally became.

This happens also with characters I know quite well. For example, Blood and Michael are basically the same characters they were in ‘Give in to the Feeling’, still there’s so much more about them now, so much I discovered while writing, even if I had thought I knew them so well.

Marion Sipe said...

So you don't feel you really know them until the end of the first draft then?

I start with a image in my head of who they are, but the details of that person--and sometimes even the big stuff--don't really penetrate until I go back over it. I just write, and the characters develop over time, and then I always have to go back and fill things in!

I'm so glad Blood and Michael (and Mat and Adam!) are talking to you!

Celebcùen said...

I don't really know.
I always have to adjust the first parts of the story, because characters always develope while I'm writing. But it's not like at the end I really know them and not before.

For some of them it is like that. That was the case for Justin, Adam's brother, for example: I understood his deepest reasons only in the last few chapters of the trilogy, so now I'm filling in all the (so numerous!) gaps. Some of them even take longer. Angelo is the only one character I'm not sure about. I know what kind of person he is, but even now that I finished the first draft and strated the second, I'm not really sure about his motives.

For most of them, it comes a moment of reveletion, like the dialogue between Mat and Adam. And that could come any moment. It's like a door opens and suddenly I see everything clearly.

Marion Sipe said...

Huh. That's really cool. I generally obsess. The more I think about the characters, the more I know about them. So, by the end of the book, I feel I know them pretty well. There's always more to learn though. Yay for sequels! :-D