Finding A Character's Voice

I just spent two day writing twenty pages that no one but me will ever read. And I can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much fun.

Although I’ve decided to finish book two of the Jessie Cameron series even if book one hasn’t sold, I’ve been hung up on one character. Critique partners tell me his dialogue doesn’t sound authentic. The character feels two-dimensional and cardboard even to me. I mentioned this problem with this particular character a while back (Imaginary Friends, November 10, 2006). I even contemplated writing him out of the story.

But then he whispered in my ear and told me why I had to keep him. Turns out this secondary character is carrying around a huge secret that ties him directly to one of the main characters. Ah ha! Now he has to stay. But I still couldn’t get a handle on who he was or how he spoke or thought. I knew his motivation, but that was about it.

I started making out a character chart for him. Unfortunately, he wasn’t willing to answer my questions. Too dry, he said. Who cares what his favorite color is? He wasn’t willing to just open up and tell me his greatest fear. Not in that context anyway.

So I tried something different. I decided to sit down at my computer in front of a blank word document and let Peter Mosley tell me his life story. And did he ever.

I started with his early years. It came slowly at first, but then someone else took over the keyboard. Peter took over. The words that appeared on the screen were words I don’t use. The phrases that poured out were funny and uniquely Peter.

I basically got out of his way and he told me of his life and he told it to me in his voice. The voice I’d been missing. The voice I had never heard before.

Now, I’m a little afraid that this secondary character may take over the book. But, no, once I put it back in Jessie’s perspective, Peter will have to stay in his place. Only now I know what that place is.

I’ve finished his backstory. Or I should say he’s finished telling it to me because, honestly, I could never come up with some of this stuff. It came through me, not from me.

But I still have to tackle that dialog problem. So I’m writing the scenes that he’s in from his perspective instead of Jessie’s. I’m letting him say what he wants to say in his words. No one else will ever read his internal dialog because when I go back to the novel, it will once again be in Jessie’s point of view. But Peter’s words will ring with authenticity because I will know his thought processes behind his words. They will be in his voice, not mine.

I like this guy. I’m glad he’s finally introduced himself to me. And I’m really glad that for two days, I turned my computer over to him. He’s a much better writer than I.

Spooky, huh?


Joyce said…
Don't you just love it when something like that happens? I think it's the most exciting thing that happens to a writer.

I've found that I do my best writing when I quit trying to reign in the characters and just let them be who they are and let them tell the story. Within reason, of course!

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