The Voices in My Head

Or rather, the voices on the pages of my MS. Which came from my head. That I can still hear.

Editing! That’s what I’m still doing with my current project, Daughters of Darkness. What I’ve been doing since late March, and will still be doing through…late June, perhaps? Maybe mid June if I’m industrious enough.

Editing a first draft involves fixing/improving a lot of different things, from big to small. I think that (for me) getting the character voices just right is one of the trickiest parts. In my earlier projects, I didn’t really worry too much about character voices, but these days, this is one of my biggest focuses. I also think it’s one of the aspects of writing long-form fiction that I’ve improved upon the most over the years.

When I first started concentrating on giving each major character her own unique voice, back in my 3rd MS, The Book of Terrors, I only worried about each how each person sounded when speaking (i.e. dialogue). But now I’m rather focused on also giving the narration a strong voice that belongs to the POV character for each scene.

I have 5 POV characters in this MS, so I consider it a fair challenge to make sure every everyone’s voice is unique and entertaining, without being annoying or sounding stupid. This is especially tough to do while writing the first draft, since I switch back and forth between different POV characters the whole time. I think that for this project, one of my final passes may include reading each character’s chapters contiguously – even though it means reading the book totally out of order – to check for consistency/continuity of voice.

To help in this process, I’ve learned (or made up?) some tricks for distinguishing each character voice. I like to pick certain aspects of voice that are specific to each:

  • Sentence length/structure
  • Common filler words/phrases (well, like, you know, etc.) that the character uses more than others
  • Common ways of referring to others (My guard character tends to refer to others by their last names, and my lady pirate likes to call other women “lass”)
  • Unusual ways of speaking, e.g. my warrior dude character almost never uses contractions
  • Swears/curses

The swearing is obviously the most important aspect. For the most part, each of my characters has her own set of swears, though they share some in common, depending on shared backgrounds/religious beliefs.

I usually come up with some of these identifying characteristics while I’m writing the first draft, so I have to go back and reconcile the voices for everyone while editing. And in some instances, I find that I’ve overdone someone’s voice while I was searching for it. That part (finding the voice by overdoing it) is usually fun, but it means I have to go back and smooth some of that out. This is proving to be especially true of my warrior dude in this MS.

So it looks I’m going to be more nitpicky about hammering down each voice for this project than I have in the past, which means more work (boo!), but I think it will be worth it in the end.