Letting your characters speak…

So I am now officially behind schedule with the rewrite of ‘That which is left is lost. Many factors have impinged on both my time and ability to write; illness, social occasions and responsibilities to name a few. Perhaps because I knew I would not complete James’ Story section in time, I am having difficulties writing it even when I do sit down to put words on the page.

It seems to be taking longer to write each scene. As I mentioned in my last post, I have been having trouble trying to connect to the necessary emotions required for this part of the novel: the love story. But I think I’ve moved past that now and yet it’s still challenging me to write it.

character talkOne thing I am very concious of is that James’ voice is very unlike my own. I start to write a sentence and then backtrack, realising that James wouldn’t say things like that. His character uses simple, straight-forward language and would tell his story in plain, short sentences without the sometimes vivid descriptive prose I can often fall into. So perhaps it is this that makes James’ Story harder work to get down. The process involves some form of translation – from how I would write it, to how James would tell it.

I’ve never really considered my character’s voices before. I’ve always been trying to concentrate on perfecting my voice in writing; ensuring that it’s not repetitive, or uses too many adverbs or relies solely on telling. This is the first time I have actively chosen to give my character a voice that is not my own.

That’s because James is a character that is practical, down-to-earth and straight forward. He left school to start an apprenticeship as a mechanic and worked his way up to garage owner based on good business decisions and an amiable personality. He doesn’t read books, unless they are on a particular subject he feels he needs to learn – like car manuals or accounting basics. He relies on the material rather than the creative. Therefore, his language cannot be comparable to mine as a writer. It wouldn’t read true.

So despite being behind schedule I think it’s worth it to get this section right, to make my character more believable and give him the substance to be able to share his story in his own words. This might mean I have to continue deleting my ‘fancy’ words and reconsidering it in favour of the plainer turn of . It might mean that I only get five hundred words written in an hour instead of my usual pace of a thousand. But if it brings James to life through the words on the page, then it’ll be worth it. This is his part of the story after all.


How do you let your characters’ voices manifest in your stories? Can you tell the difference between your characters purely on voice?
Let me know what you think in comments or, as usual, Tweet Me!


7 responses to “Letting your characters speak…

  1. Pingback: Learning from other writers’ mistakes | Cat Lumb: The Struggle to be a Writer

  2. I have recently faced this issue writing in first person. I need to follow my more of my characters’ voice and less of my own.

    • I think that is part of the developing writer’s process: being able to regonise your own voice so that you can define which is yours and which belongs to a character. This comes with practice, and when writing in first person is a big challenge, so I can relate with this.

      Good luck with your writing. Sounds like you are able to identify where you need to improve, which is always a good sign of progress.
      Thanks for stopping by to comment.
      Take Care,

    • I don’t think this is crazy at all – not amongst us writers! Somtimes I hear them very clearly, other times I find it very difficult and have to try things out before I can really define the correct speech pattern for each individual.

      In this case, I can hear James which it possibly why it is taking a bit longer – because I have to write it as I ‘hear’ it, if that makes sense? I do know, on the next pass, there are other characters I will have to work on when it comes to their voice. A couple of my characters sound very similar and they shouldn’t, but I haven’t yet ‘heard’ them speak.

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂
      Take Care, Cat

  3. I agree it was well worth it to be slower and get it right. I must say though, it can be very annoying when you would say something so much better than your character would and you think, “Oh come on. I could’ve had a beautiful two sentences here. Work with me.” However, it is definitely more authentic when you let them speak.

    • Hehe, this hasn’t happened to me yet! Though I can imagine it’s frustrating. It’s difficult to strike the balance beween beautiful language and authenticity.

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