Improving Your Character’s Voice

Lately I’ve been working on my… third? draft of Uncommon, the novel I wrote during my month-long residency in New Orleans back in February. I’ll admit, I’ve been having a rough time of it.

You see, I wrote this book very, very quickly. I’m now wondering if that was the greatest idea, or if I should have slowed down some. Either way, I proved I could write a book in a month and now I am tasked with making that very rough first draft shine.

The biggest problem Uncommon has is voice. Namely that some of the characters have exceptionally strong voices, which makes some of the other characters seem weaker by comparison. So what I am struggling with is re-writing all the scenes to bring them up to the same level, so each character has a distinct way of speaking/thinking that makes them ‘come alive’ so to speak.

Let’s see if I can give you an example. Here’s the opening scene for the strongest character in terms of voice. Meet Emily of Hyatt House…

Emily was a scullery maid. She knew this beyond a shadow of a doubt because her head was in a pot, her hands were raw and chafed, and she sat on the scullery floor, her legs splayed out to either side of said aforementioned pot, bracing it so she could reach the very bottom and scrub it until it shined. Or at least gleamed dully; the pots were getting old like everything else in the house. 

Nothing less would do. Not for her mistress, Mrs. Dorothea Hyatt of Hyatt House, and not for the cook, who would swat her bottom with her long handled spoon if she so much as thought of doing less than was expected of her.  

Speaking of the cook…Emily ducked her head out of the over-sized stock pot and listened for a moment. The kitchen was uncharacteristically silent. Maybe Cook fell asleep again, she reasoned. 

She gave a sniff and could just make out the smell of scones, fresh from the oven. Emily’s stomach growled plaintively. She listened for a moment longer, but she didn’t hear any sounds of the cook pattering about, or even the woman’s snores, which were quite distinctive. 

Curious and more than a little hungry, Emily got to her feet hurriedly, leaving the scrubbing brush on the floor of the scullery. She wiped her hands on the front of her already filthy apron, ignoring the fact that the act probably wasn’t doing them any favours, and then she darted silently to the scullery door. 

Poking her head into the kitchen, she surveyed the area, but there was no cook in sight and no other staff either; not that that was odd, there were hardly enough of them left to bump into each other much anymore.

Absently smoothing her unruly red hair, in a ridiculous attempt to make herself presentable and therefore look like she could possibly belong in the room where food was prepared, Emily strode purposefully into the kitchen, letting her nose lead her to where the scones rested on the counter top. 

She took a deep sniff, filling her belly with the warm fragrant fumes in case that was all she got in the end, then looking both ways, she confirmed she was indeed entirely alone before she reached out and snatched the smallest, most misshapen looking scone; the reject, the one nobody would miss. 

She was about to shove that scone between her meager breasts to hide it and then scurry back to the scullery to devour it in secret when the faintest hint of a conversation drew her attention beyond the world of misshapen scones and dirty dishes.

***

From the moment she is first introduced, Emily’s personality is evident through the writing. She has vitality, and her portrayal is consistent througout the story. In short, I knew who she was the moment I started writing from her perspective and it shows. 

Some of the other characters took me longer to figure out. Rygal, the male romantic lead, for example is more book smart, shy and uncertain of himself. His sister, Rhea, by contrast, is a warrior and often labelled a firebrand. All of these qualities should come through in the voice of the writing, which is not an easy thing to do and an even harder thing to add in or strengthen after the fact. 

Wish me luck, readers! And I hope you’re looking forward to the eventual release of Uncommon as much as I am. Thanks for reading. 

2 thoughts on “Improving Your Character’s Voice

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  1. Yup, those first drafts are messy! Guess that’s why I seem to edit as I go, which slows my writing and takes me longer to finish my first draft, but it’s less work for me in the revision stages. Wink. Good luck, Justine, and you know I’m looking forward to Uncommon’s release! Woohoo!

    Liked by 1 person

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