Short Stories

Writing: Writing Characters and Giving Them a Voice


Greetings from under the table! Holidays are almost over, but most of you still have time to procrastinate. I thought this would be a good opportunity to take time to think about characters from our own writing and other author’s books. I have always been character- and story-centric reader and as it turns out a writer as well. Worldbuilding comes only after those two. How about you? Worldbuilder or character driven discovery writer?

How do you create a character? Do you look around and make a note of people who are there and give a piece of their soul to your character or do you do it by sketching and questionnaire? (Discovering or outlining?) I belong to the discovery writer group. When I create my story, I sit in front of my computer with a basic idea like with Worth of Luck it was what if secret societies were battling with each other in a kingdom and with my second book I had this vision of undead bankers. (Third book most likely will be about an open letter.) I might have an opening scene in mind, but the story folds from there on. The scenes and concepts demand characters and characters will be born. That is my method of madness.

With my first book, I went with intuition and tuned the characters by editing them several times. Now with BON (second book), I made character sheets after the first write through and only after then I went into editing. My BON characters came alive better than Worth of Luck (WOL). They have excessive backgrounds, clear set personalities, relationship with each other, beliefs, desires, fears, and rest of what makes humans human. WOL characters had those but not at this level. So I went from discovering to outlining, and it worked for me.

What I’m struggling with is how to give them a unique voice. I know background and personality change how they speak and with that in mind choosing vocabulary and actual way of speaking make them more 3D. Easy? Follow the steps, and you are there. How I wish it would be as simple. It is a lot of work when you have twenty-nine unique characters. (I know. I have a problem. But the little buggers spring out like mushrooms in the rain.) If only that was my only concern, I would be on firmer ground. But I think it is my dyslexia making it hard for me to hear the differences between how people and characters speak. I have to force myself to notice different speech patterns. I keep on trying as I want the characters to feel as alive for my readers as they do for me. If anyone has any great tips on how to actually write different voices, then contact me!

If I think back on the characters I have loved in other writer’s books, they have that unique voice and strong view of the world. (I want to do that.) Like Granny Weatherwax. You know her miles away. Or Death or Vetinari who is one of my favorite characters. That extra work Terry Pratchett did with his characters is the sole essence of Discworld. I think (you will hate me for this) sometimes he should have paid more attention to the story. All the jumping around and incoherent bits made some of the earlier books weak. Nevertheless, his characters live on. Whenever I think any of them, they feel real and as if they are with me. And that is the magic of Pratchett. He paid attention to all the little details. He evoked stereotypes and went against them. He gave his characters life, dreams, hopes, fears, beliefs, and a voice with own set of vocabulary. Can you think Granny Weatherwax using flowery words?

To some readers, characters are a nice bonus. What they seek is a coherent world with clear rules. And I think as a writer I have to accept creating magic systems with strict rules doesn’t interest me, excluding out those who love to read about worlds. With BON I have created a more consistent setting and paid attention to its history, but it lacks a rulebook with for example Petula’s necromantic skills. I have a basic idea what she can do and what not, but no system to confine her. I prefer that way as long as I keep an eye on inconsistencies.

It isn’t easy to get the craft right. As a beginner, I have time to test and grow, but I have a direction where I want to go. I want my books to feel alive, the stories stay with the reader, and to write my own set of magical lines that enchant the world like with Pratchett did. I have a long way to go, but for now, I have all the time in the world.

Thank you for reading my ramble!

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