Justine has a lovely post
(I mistyped "lively," which is also apropos) on characterization. Mostly I want to say, What she said!
particularly with regards to the part about no two writers being the same. If you're starting, try everything. If it doesn't work, you don't have to do it again.
I once bailed on a characterization workshop deliasherman
was doing at WisCon because the first exercise was something along the lines of "pretend to be your character and let the person sitting next to you interview you." Seriously, I got up and fled the room as if Delia had said, "We're about to release the mutant zombie polar bears, and oh by the way they haven't been fed since noon on Tuesday." With the racing heart and the panic.
That technique obviously does not work for me--at least in part due to long-standing Fourth Wall Issues, as in, Please do not fuck with the fourth wall. I need it.
and in part due to equally long-standing First Day Of Class Icebreaker Issues--but that doesn't mean it's a bad technique, any more than my complete and utter FAIL in the face of it means I'm a bad writer.
But I also thought I might chime in on the question about voice:
I was wondering whether there is anything in particular you do when developing the voice of your character (ie. the way they speak)? Is there anything you do to try and keep this as consistent as possible throughout the story?
Because that is a salient feature of my work, and it is something I work hard on (see for evidence this post
about the evolution of Mildmay's voice). And it's also a question that's damnably hard to answer. Because I do not, in general, "hear" my characters in my head, but at the same time, I do.
Yes, clear as mud, Mole, thanks.
Let's try that again. My characters do not talk to me. (Possibly as part of those Fourth Wall Issues, I am highly suspicious of and actually kind of squicked by any rubric for talking about writing that either believes or pretends to believe that the characters have independent existences and/or autonomy. Unless you follow all the way to the logical conclusion à la The Dark Half
or "Secret Window, Secret Garden," in which case you have a whole new crop of problems, and I only hope you survive them.) I do sometimes get a line of prose in my head that seems to have floated up full-formed from the underconscious, like the answers in a Magic-8 Ball, and those can often be attributed to a specific voice. But that's not the same thing, either. (Although even I succumb to the short hand of saying things like, "Booth gave me an opening sentence today.") So I don't hear them in the way I hear actual voices.
But at the same time, I do have to hear
them. A lot of how prose works for me is rhythm. Each character's voice has (or should
have, anyway) a distinctive rhythm; I struggled a lot with Mehitabel in The Mirador
and Kay in Corambis
, trying to find their rhythms. A sentence should sound different, depending on which character says it, even if you don't have the dramatic differences imposed by a class-based dialect like Mildmay's. There's also differences in what information a character will choose to convey, what aspects of a situation he or she notices. For instance:
It snowed last night, rather a lot, and in a bit I'm going to have to go out and shovel. If I were writing about it in Felix's voice, I might remark on how strange it makes the topography of the neighborhood, but mostly I'd be bitching about how much work it is, and how cold and wet, and why don't we make enough money to hire someone to do it? (Also, notice that sentence isn't
in Felix's voice, because Felix wouldn't use the word "bitch".) If I were writing about it in Mildmay's voice, I'd definitely talk about how weird it makes everything look, but I'd also tell you about a story I heard once about a guy who got lost in a blizzard and was rescued by a polar bear who was really an explorer under an enchantment and how they got the enchantment broken. I probably wouldn't mention the work part of it at all, unless I'm noticing that Felix forgot to say thank you. Again
. And if I'm writing in Booth's voice, I describe the harsh sound the shovel makes against the sidewalk and count with painful, meticulous honesty, how many times I fall into the snow. (In my own voice? I bitch about how out of shape I am and notice the paths the feralistas have made in the snow.)
So that's how it works for me. It's part word choice and part rhythm (Mildmay's sentences are shorter and choppier than Felix's or Booth's, and while Felix is fond of rhetoric, his sentences are never as convoluted and Victorian as Booth's are) and part which details you emphasize. The important thing, I think, is that it has to matter
whose eyes we're seeing through: the reasons that it matters are where you'll find the voice.