27 May 2009

Voices and Lack Thereof

...Also subtitled, 'Troublesome Characters'.


I'm writing a novel called Jesscapades at the moment, right? The one-liner is 'A dedicated student assassin gets her final assignment: kill her best friend, or be killed by him.' It's not a brilliant tag-line, but it's not too shabby either. I think. The story itself has potential, and bits of world that just make me shiver and go 'Squee!'

The glass, for instance, which goes with the story behind the name of the assassin organisation. They're called Shards, and they kill at the direction of Fate. They get Fate's directions in the Glass Room, a large dome on the top of a tower filled to the brim with glass objects, all hanging from the glass ceiling, all twirling and twining in the dazzling sunlight so the room looks like gold.

When it's time for a person to be killed, their glass falls, and shatters. Shards, right?

Much squee, much happiness.

But here's the thing: right now, I'm a breath away from 60k. The first draft of the novel will be complete somewhere between 70k and 75k, and I expect that to increase by as much as 20k in edits. So the length is good.

The idea is good, the length is good.

Tension, yup, plenty of that. Twist? Oh yeah. Big twists. Conflict? Plenty. Subplots? Lots.

It works. It fits.


Tonight I stumbled upon a review of Lisa Shearin's Magic Lost, Trouble Found, which is one of my all-time favouritest books evah. If, one day, I can write a character as amusing and enjoyable and entertaining as Raine, I shall die happy.

And that's precisely the thing. There's one thing missing from my list of the things that are right with my novel: characters.

Oh, sure, I have the characters. They all do their job. They drive the plot, they have needs and wants and motivations....

But right now, I simply can't convince myself to care about them. And it's not because I'm sick of the story, because I'm not. It's because they feel flat. It's because when I compare them to a kick-ass character like Raine Benares, they're weighed and found wanting.

And mostly, it's because of one thing: voice.

Recently Liana wrote a great post on finding your voice. I read it and knew it was important - but it wasn't until tonight after reading the Lisa Shearin interview as well that it all clicked.

See, my characters all sound the same. I'm teaching this great novel at school which is told through three different points of view, and the technique is fabulous: you can tell just by looking at the page - not even reading, just looking - which of the three characters is speaking.

My story has two main POV characters, and a small host of minor ones (about 6 in total, I think??) - and every single one of them sounds exactly the same. Even their dialogue sounds the same.

And right now, at this point in my writing career, I have to admit a scary thing - I'm not actually sure how to fix it. In my head, I have nothing; the characters aren't really speaking to me, I'm not hearing distinct voices for them like I have some of my other characters - and I don't really know what to do. And I have this feeling even character chats won't work.

For now, I'll plug on, and finish the draft as per plan - but if anyone has a suggestion, be it original or directing me to an article, I'm be so grateful for the help. I'm stuck, and my brain isn't offering me any answers.

Oh characters, where art thou??


Danyelle said...


I have no idea how to help. Wish I did!

Yunaleska said...

Don't be scared, I believe you'll find a way to give all the characters' voices. :)

beth said...

If this helps: have someone else read it. I once thought I had EXACTLY the same problem as you did. But when my crit partner read it, she said she could tell which character was which just by looking at the page. I hadn't even asked her about that--her first words of encouragement were that my voice was OK. So you might be being too hard on yourself.

Lady Glamis said...

I'm not sure how to help with this either, sweetie. Beth might be right, or you might be right. Either way, what counts in the end is knowing your POV characters well enough to be able to speak in their voice. Now, how to do that, I don't know. For me it comes naturally. But who knows, my characters might all sound the same too. :S

Merc said...

*offers cookies*

Inky, I have the same problem all the time (in particular with first person, ugh)... so the first item on the list is:



I believe character voice in DL and narrative can actually be fixed most times (now don't jump on the qualification there and claim it won't happen with Jess just yet :P).

It's not an easy process, granted, and okay, I don't think it ever gets easier. BUT! I think you need to focus on finishing the draft and then you can sit down and figure out Jess voice, and the rest of them.

You can look at things like education, background, quirks, etc--like, Jess lived on the streets for awhile, so many some of the slang/tough girl attitude carries through in her voice. Have you considered whether or not she'd use more slang/short hand, etc, when speaking, and has to remind herself to be more formal and "educated" at times? (In reverse, what is Samson's past/upbringing like? You KNOW he'd talk different than Jess, so it's more an issue of finding out what the differences ARE so you can exploit them.)

Have you tried writing a scene or two in first person to see if the voice speaks to you better that way? This doesn't always help, but on occasion it can.

Um... yeah, finish the draft. ;) I completely and totally understand your frustration with voice here, I have the exact same problems (sigh, it never ends, either :P) but I believe it's something that, if you haven't got it yet, you should wait until the end to go back and work on.

Sometimes a voice just WORKS in the first draft, you know? Sometimes characters come around talking your ear off with a unique voice you like and want to keep writing with. And sometimes it doesn't. And it's okay.

The good news it a lot of OTHER aspects of Jesscapades works so I think this is a problem that can be figured out and worked on when you get to the edit stages. :)

*offers more cookies*


p.s. Everyone keeps posting about voice and I still keep forgetting I wanted to actually DO a post about character voice sometime... you know, not like I have actually done a real post in forever. :S

Anette J Kres said...

Now, I'm no expert on this, I'm still working on voice myself, but I have to agree with one of Merc's points.

Think about your characters lives. They don't really just exist in the moments you write about do they? They have backgrounds! Some may be swag. Others hippie. Some city kids. Country kids. Formal, eloquent kids. Slang flinging kids. Some may have accents. Some may stutter. Some may only speak in short sentences. Some may speak in improper sentences. Fragments. Some may carry on internal monologues, while others think only when they have to. Some may invent their own phrases and swear words. Some may be overtly optamistic. That shows in voice. Some may be pessimists. Some may use a lot of unnecessary phrases. "No, seriously, dude."

Anyway, I need to take my own advice, but here it is for you: think about who your characters really are. Think until they fill your head and seem real and well-rounded. Then their voices will come naturally. I have a few characters that I've got a great grasp on and some that I feel I barely know. That makes it way harder to write them.

Good luck. You can do it. :)

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