As we discussing POV at UtopYA Con, one of the questions that came up was how to create different and distinct voices for your characters. Just like no two of your friends sound alike (even if they have the same accent, they are unique in their thoughts and ideas), your characters should be distinguishable as well. This is something that is important regardless of the point of view that you use; each character should be an individual. However, it especially important when using multiple 1st person narratives (say for example, if you decide to alternate chapters between two or more main characters). When a character is really well-crafted and language is effectively used, the reader can identify that character without the need for any markers (i. e. Hawk replied, Nate questioned, Bailey shouted).
So, how do you create voices that are distinctive and unique. One of the first things to do is to figure out who your characters are. One of the authors on the panel called this process creating character dossiers. In the character dossier, you compile as much information about your character as possible. Who is she? Where was she born? What’s her favorite color? Is she confident? Why or why not? As you answer all of these questions, your character will start to come to life in your mind. If, for instance, she was born in the south, she might have an southern lilt or twang. She may use certain distinctive turns of phrase like “y’all”. (I was born in the south, and we do say y’all. Even after hopping around the country, “y’all” is still very much a part of my vocabulary. Dialect is a wonderful way to make your characters sound different on the page. ) In another example, the dialogue (internal and external) of a character that is confident is not going to sound the same as that of a character that is insecure. These are characteristics that you can work into your fiction, to make your characters distinctive. The better you know your characters, the more you will be able to inhabit their voice.
We discussed a couple of other techniques for creating distinctive characters. While I was rewriting Interlopers, I started keeping a blog for my main character Nate. The blog actually was about his life before the events of Interlopers began. As I started to detail those events, I developed a clearer sense of who Nate was, which helped clarify the things that motivate him. Some authors, John Saul and Tananarive Due among them, have even created twitter profiles for books, constructed complete online personae for their characters. Others use musical playlists to set the tone for their characters.
Whichever technique you select, the key seems to be knowing your characters well. The more you know about your characters, the more they will live inside of your head and then on the page.
Share your tips for creating memorable voices below.