NaNo Lessons: Character Voice

I’ve talked before about the challenge of writing the same character at different ages, but I had a difficult time with it this November.  The series I’m writing, Witches of Texas, is not a new story for me.  I’ve been writing the main characters since I was seventeen or eighteen.  They have evolved with me into adulthood, and their old stories tackled adult themes from a grown up perspective.  Their personalities were firm and established.  They came to me as thirty-somethings with chips on their shoulders and a wider knowledge of their world and how they related to it.

Then I had to decide to write their origins when they were teenagers and young adults.  Should be easy, right?

Yeah, no.

The biggest challenge has been their voice.  You see the world differently as a teen than you do at twenty-two and more different still at thirty-three.  I have to keep in mind how they end up, and then find out what makes them that way, all the while trying to keep a consistent thread in their voice that will bridge the gaps between those ages so they don’t seem to hop all over the place.

Yesterday I talked about writing through the garbage, and a lot of that garbage was failed attempts at finding their voices.  I wrote many scenes that completely threw their voices off, or made them so out of character it might as well have been a completely different story.  By the middle of the month frustrated didn’t even begin to describe my state of mind.

So I broke away from the story and wrote a scene with their older selves.  It was a stupid scene, just the main characters bickering with each other over a goat herd and a pile of nicknacks, but it brought back the rhythm I was missing in their origin story.  I figured out I was making everything too dark and the characters too reactive, I wasn’t allowing them enough agency to really say what they thought or to act in the way they wanted to.  It was me forcing them along with the shambles of the plot instead of following them.

So I started a new page and kept the plot in mind, but let them wander around screwing things up to make it happen.  Will I keep all of that for the final drafts?  No.  But the exercise of getting back into their natural voices reminded me how to write them.  It reminded me what these characters held in value, what their real motivations were, and what they sound like inside, and out, of their heads.

Characters change over the course of their story, and their lives, but even the characters who go through a galactic amount of crap still have a recognizable thread from beginning to end.  Whether it’s cutting sarcasm, the drive to succeed, unkillable optimism, or a need to protector something else, parts of that survive their transformation.  I managed to find the bits that survive in my characters.

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