Write Distinctive Character Voices

The Key to Bringing Your POV Characters’ Voices to Life

Write Distinctive Character VoicesBecause all your characters come from just one person—namely you—it can often be challenging to make them all sound like unique people in their own right. This is a challenge that reaches far beyond dialogue and personality quirks, especially when you’re utilizing more than one narrator.

So how do you create a different voice for each point-of-view character?

Poisonwood Bible Barbara KingsolverBarbara Kingsolver’s acclaimed The Poisonwood Bible features five POV characters: a mother and her four daughters. All are from the same family and geographic background, all are female, and most are around the same age.

With all these similarities in view, it would seem Kingsolver set herself an insurmountable task in making each character’s voice so unique it’s instantly recognizable from the others. She does do so, thanks in part to unique vocal tics. But this is only a tiny contributor to her success.

The secret of unique narrative voices lies foremost in the creation of unique characters.

Kingsolver presents five complete and in-depth personalities. Her characters’ voices live and breathe on the page because she took the time to get to know them herself and flesh them out. I would venture that, as a result, these characters decided for themselves how they would talk, and Kingsolver had only to let the words spill forth.

Had she approached these POVs differently—had she slapped on the vocal tics without investigating the characters themselves—both the characters’ voices and, indeed, the entire story would have suffered.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What tricks did you use to bring your POV characters’ voices to life? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. For another excellent example of how to change your voice with your character POV, read the steampunk novel Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. I blogged about it in my article “Changing your narrative voice with POV” on Oct 31 (http://coreyjpopp.blogspot.com/2010/10/changing-your-narrative-voice-with.html)

  2. Awesome post, KM–and I LOVE Poisonwood Bible. I actually had a little POV post myself on Monday… I wonder what you might think of it? :o) <3

  3. This is helpful to me. Im about to introduce a rather ominous character to my WIP and wasn’t sure how to make her voice distinctive yet managable. She has the potential to overpower the MC.
    Thanks K.M.

  4. @Corey: Excellent examples. I’m going to link your post at the bottom of mine.

    @LTM: Off to check it out!

    @Jan: I’ve had to deal with several characters like that. It’s always a balancing act, but I find that, when possible, limiting the length of the overpowering character’s POV helps.

  5. The way Kingsolver handled each POV character in Poisonwood was one of the best things about the book.

  6. There were a lot of things I *didn’t* like about the book, but the writing in the first two-thirds was masterful.

  7. Thanks for this really great article. Everything you say is so helpful. I appreciate it. 🙂

  8. I’m always glad when the posts are helpful to someone!

  9. I agree completely, but sometimes I forget to take the time to get to know my characters before I start writing. It makes for tons of revisions later. 🙁

  10. I always prefer to get to know my characters beforehand. I use a lengthy interview process (which, BTW, is available in my free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters) that can take me several days per character. But not everyone enjoys working that way. Some authors find more success getting to know their characters as they actually write them, and then going back to edit inconsistencies.

  11. I’m new to your blog… So I thought I’d just pop in and say that I am enjoying the content. I think it is easier to learn craft via spoonfuls rather than shovel loads. In other words, a lesson a day for ten days is more effective than a day with ten lessons. Thanks… Munk

  12. I’m glad you’re finding the site useful! Bite-sized chunks are definitely easier to digest for me too.

  13. And here I was worried about my four POVs. LOL!

  14. Generally speaking, the fewer POVs you can get away with, the better. But some stories just demand more than others.

  15. Loved this post–so very helpful! You had me at “Poisonwood Bible.” Thanks so much!

  16. It was an interesting book, to be sure, and a great study in multiple POVs.

  17. Gloria Milyard says

    Unlike most young writers, I am in my 70’s and I use family members that span my life time as well as youth that I am frequently around today. This gives me a generational gap of ages that were born prior to the 1900’s and lived not only in Europe but various parts of the United States and Canada…I love being able to us the cultural differences that goes with the various generations…

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