Friday, May 10, 2013

Novel Characters Need Their Own Voice

Entry Three

In my last post, Entry Two, I mentioned that how characters in a book look and sound is not always the author’s decision. I probably should have said, not completely the author’s decision. When we begin a new novel we have a story in mind, which should make its way to outline form along with the establishment of the cast of characters. Then we create what we think is the physical description of each and develop a first draft of each individual’s speech patterns and dialogue style.

I think most authors begin the actual writing at this point. In this way the characters are allowed to flesh themselves out. With first draft pages in hand we have an image of how the characters interact with each other. If too many characters are blonde, it creates confusion. Likewise if every character uses the same words, expressions, and has the same accent the reader is unable to discern who is who. Of course we can specifically write “Peter said” after every dialogue entry, but how unimaginative is that?

When the characters begin to speak to each other we hear the differences in their voices and their choice of words. Every character does not need to sound like he comes from a different part of the world; the differences can be quite subtle, especially when creating family members. After all, being raised and educated in the same environment by the same set of role models will cause us to in many ways sound the same. This too can be a useful tool. We might hint to the reader that two individuals are brothers by the same use of some unique phrase.

At the same time, overuse of a particular hard to read accent, or an annoying phrase can alienate the reader. Too much of a good or a bad thing does not create interest. I cannot overemphasize the importance of salient dialogue that represents the individual characters and makes them real in the reader’s mind’s eye.

When we focus on believable we can see and hear if the characters work together. When they effectively communicate with each other the reader is drawn into the conversation. Whether writers test dialogues in model situations or begin writing and see how they work, they will always depend upon the characters themselves to establish their uniqueness in the novel.
The next time you have your nose in a book try to imagine the characters in the setting as described, having a conversation as written, and ask yourself one simple question. “Is this realistic?”

Stay tuned for my next entry.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

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