Saturday, August 13, 2016

Author’s Voice? Or Character's Voice?

by Jean Kavich Bloom

The two main characters, destined for love in this romance novel, had only just met. They were strangers from different coasts and different worlds, and the author’s imagination had thrown them together in a middle-of-the-country state.

So why, I wondered, did they use such similar expressions in dialogue? I don’t mean phrasing they might have both absorbed from, say, media, but unique phrasing one would expect to hear only from two people from the same region or family, or who were influenced by a common dialect or colloquialism.

My conclusion? I was fairly certain I was hearing the author’s voice in all the dialogue, not necessarily each created character’s voice. Fortunately, we were in the editing stage, so it wasn’t too late to address whether the author was happy with the way the dialogue was (maybe), whether she felt her readers would notice and be distracted (I was), and whether we were also facing an issue of repetition (we were).

When you’re editing your own work, the unique quality of each character's dialogue is one factor to consider: Do my characters all sound like me, the author? If I have favorite expressions, which character(s) should speak them and why? 

I was not familiar with all the author’s novels, but my suggestions for this particular book were to give

·         the female lead most of the unique phrasing because she drove the story line and had a personality with which I suspected the author resonated; 

·         the male lead the rest of the unique phrasing because he reacted to, more than instigated, the action; and

·         each of the important minor characters his or her own unique phrasing, if necessary to give them distinction and life.

Making these changes wasn’t all that hard to do, even in a late editing stage. And in my opinion, they made the story, the dialogue, and the entire novel stronger.

We sometimes say to others, “Don’t put words in my mouth.” But if our characters could speak without us, they might say, “Don’t put your voice in all our mouths without being sure that's what you want!”

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer (Bloom in Words Editorial Services). Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a contributor to a  blog for women, The Glorious Table. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.  

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  1. Great insight, Jean. This sort of thing easily "flies under the radar" of an author's own editing, but becomes apparent when a reader picks up the story, expecting the dialogue to round out each character's identity.

  2. I liked this post. I'm also VERY guilty of my people sounding alike!