Four Ways to Discover Your Character's Voice (plus tips for writing multi-POV's!)
If you’ve been following along with my fiction writing journey, you probably know that my passion project, The Dark Between, is a multi-POV fantasy novel. It features two distinct storylines (with a few overlapping elements), and each storyline is written from two perspectives.
In other words, the story is told by four different POV characters.
I didn’t make this decision on purpose. You see, my brain just isn’t very good at keeping things simple. Where some writers are intimidated by writing a book series or novels with multiple interwoven storylines, I’m intimidated by the thought of *not* doing those things.
When I have a new idea, it pulls a Fibonacci-sequence effect and just builds and builds and builds upon itself. So when I look at stories, I find it very hard to focus on just one aspect of that story. I need to write ALL THE PERSPECTIVES.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course. Nor is writing a solo-POV novel a lesser choice. In fact, it may seem complex to write a novel from many different perspectives (and it is!), but I think writers who don’t recognize the complexity of keeping things simple are selling themselves short.
But I digress…
The point I’m getting at here is this: when my lovely Twitter friend Sandra Bone asked if I had any posts on giving separate viewpoint characters distinct voices, I knew this was a topic I had more than enough experience to talk about. I mean, if there’s anything I live for, it’s complex characters and storylines, y'all.
So if you’ve ever considered writing a multi-POV novel yourself, or even if you’re just looking to discover the voice of your solo-POV main character, this is definitely the post for you. Let’s get started with those tips, shall we?
So, first things first. What is multi-POV? If you aren’t familiar with the phrase, no worries. I was writing multi-POV long before I knew there was a name for it, so don’t feel bad.
Multi-POV is simply a shortened version of the phrase "multiple points of view".
In a novel that utilizes multi-POVs, more than one character in the novel tells the story. If the novel switches between just two characters' perspectives, you may also see the phrase “dual-POV” used, though multi-POV still applies.
Cool? See, no biggie!
Moving right along, let’s examine which type of novel you should write. There are certainly pros and cons to writing both multi-POV and solo-POV novels, but do know that one is not intrinsically better than the other.
I think the deciding factor between the two is rather simple, but we’ll talk about that in a second. First, let’s take a quick look at those pros and cons.
Multi-POV or Solo-POV: which is right for your book?
Solo-POV. When writing a solo-POV novel, you have the benefit of only juggling one character’s side of the story, which can certainly make it simpler to get the story down on the page.
Having a singular POV character also makes it easier for readers to jump inside your POV character’s head and stay there, thus hooking them into the story.
However, there is one big con to writing a solo-POV. You see, some stories are more complex than the characters themselves and truly do need multiple perspectives to be told well.
For example, if you’re writing a thriller about two different women living centuries apart and the magical object that ties them together, it’d be rather difficult to tell that story solely from the perspective of just one character. You’d have to employ a whole lot of info-dumping in order to reveal details about the other woman's life without actually diving into that woman’s perspective.
See what I mean?
Multi-POV. On the other hand, we have the pros and cons of multi-POV novels. The beautiful thing about multi-POV’s is that you can truly get the full scope of a story by employing multiple perspectives.
This can encourage extra tension between characters, blur the lines between hero and villain, and draw readers in by making them consider the true complexity of the conflict and its implications for the characters involved.
But at the same time, there are also many cons to multi-POV’s.
First, by switching perspectives often, you make it harder for readers to get attached to your POV characters. You can also make readers feel manipulated if you end each character’s perspective with a major cliffhanger, forcing them to read through another 100 pages before they get back to that character’s storyline.
Of course, there are many more pros and cons to both types of novels, but at the end of the day, I think there are really two deciding factors that can easily determine which style of POV you should write.
So if you aren’t sure which POV style is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do I actually need more than one perspective to properly tell my story?
2. Which style of story do I truly prefer to write?
After all, you should always write with purpose and in the way that works best for you. If you can do those two things, I guarantee your story will shine no matter how you present it. Okay?
Think writing a multi-POV novel is the right choice for you and your story? Fantastic! Want to keep it simple and write a solo-POV novel? That's also fantastic!
No matter what choice you make, if you want to write an effective narrative, you need to ensure each of your POV characters has a unique perspective–an individual voice, if you will.
After all, if each of your POV characters shares the same perspective (which is almost always a reflection of your own perspective), you aren’t really writing different characters, are you? Strong, well-developed characters always have unique voices. It's as simple as that.
You see, characters are the backbone of your novel. Everything they do and say–and every element of who they are–can make or break the success of your story, so taking the time to get your characters right is just about the most important thing you can do for your writing.
So let's make your characters unique, shall we?
Four Tips for Defining Your Character's Voice
Ready to take a look at what it means to give your characters truly unique voices? Let’s break down four of my favorite tips!
1. Get to Know Them. First and foremost, you need to know your characters inside and out. If you don’t know them, you’ll never be able to give them unique voices. Makes sense, right?
But how in the world are you supposed to get to know your characters? What sort of details are you supposed to define and how are you supposed to define them? I recommend checking out this She's Novel post on creating strong characters!
Strong characters are well-developed characters, and well-developed characters have unique voices. In this blog post, I outline 33 ways you can instantly strengthen your characters today. Give it a read sometime (it comes with free worksheets!).
2. Get in the Right Mindset. Getting inside your character's head before writing is key to getting to know their voice, so before you sit down for a writing session, decide which character’s perspective you’re going to write from that day.
Then, take 10 minutes to think or journal from your character's perspective. If you know what scene you’re going to write, consider thinking or journaling about how your character is feeling about the events leading up to or during the scene, or how they’re feeling now that those events have passed.
But remember to work from your character's perspective and not your own. The more you can put yourself in their shoes, the easier it will be to find their unique voice.
3. Consider Speech and Thought Patterns. Everyone thinks and speaks a little differently, right? Even if they have the same mother tongue or live in similar circumstances with similar upbringings, no one uses the exact same patterns of thought and speech. We're all unique!
Some people use particular phrases when speaking. Some are rather chatty while others are more reserved. Others still use run-on sentences frequently or prefer to keep things short and sweet.
Don’t forget about pessimist vs. optimist vs. realist, as well. How about liberal vs. conservative? Male vs. female? You get my point. We are all so very unique in our beliefs, personalities, experiences, interests, circumstances, etc., and each one of those things is going to effect how we see the world.
So when you write from your character’s perspective, you need to know how they think and speak. Their patterns will not only define how you write their dialogue, but how you write the narrative itself, so make sure to give both of these elements some thought.
4. Consider their Views. There’s always more than one side to a story. Considering this, it’s time to think about how your character views themselves, the world they live in, and the events they're experiencing.
If they were retelling the events of your novel to a friend, how would they describe them? Go back to all of those opposing factors we mentioned in tip #3 and consider how each of those things shapes the way your character sees the world.
How do they view their lives and how does this affect how they relate to others? Does it define their goals and motivations? Their reactions to the events they experience? How so?
Give this some serious thought before writing from your character's perspective, then use your discoveries to influence your writing and strengthen your character’s voice.
At the end of the day, it all comes back to knowing your characters well. When you do, you should have very little trouble identifying their voices and writing from their perspectives. And this goes for any viewpoint character, regardless of whether you're writing a solo- or multi-POV novel.
The Importance of Voice
Ready for a little bit of story time? If you're struggling to draft your novel, it may be because you haven't found your character's voice yet. Here's a look at my own experience!
If you've read some of my recent newsletters or if you follow me on social media, you probably know that I’m currently working on a solo-POV prequel to my multi-POV novel (and yes, it is proving to be quite the challenge for me!).
I had wanted to draft the first 40k of this project during July’s Camp NaNoWriMo, but after a week of struggling to write the story, I knew I needed to take a step back and figure out why writing each and every word felt like pulling teeth.
Sure enough, after a bit of reflection I realized that I only knew my POV character at surface level.
I didn't know that Claire Godtric bottled up her emotions to avoid facing grief. I didn’t know she struggled to open up to her sister and best friend because she was afraid of hurting them. I didn’t know she secretly despised herself for falling in love.
When I sat down to write my first draft, all I knew about Claire Godtric was that she was an incredibly skilled and driven healer.
But when I took a step back and spent just one week getting to know Claire, my own viewpoint changed. I discovered what makes Claire laugh and cry. I realized her regrets and the source of her bottled-up pain, and I uncovered the one thing that could make Claire willingly set aside her lofty ambitions.
Suddenly, Claire was no longer a character. She was a person. A person I knew inside and out. So when I returned to my manuscript earlier this week, I discovered just how much I had grown to know and understand Claire's voice.
And sure enough, drafting has gone much smoother ever since. Hurray!
Writing a novel certainly isn’t a piece of cake, but it is much easier when you slip into your POV character's shoes and write from their perspective.
And that's winning in my book.
If you'd like to know more about Claire Godtric and my current work-in-progress, The Eaves of Fall, here’s a link to the opening epigraph and a link to a snippet from the first draft. I’ll also include the rough blurb below:
"Claire Godtric wants glory.
What men tear down with swords, Claire stitches back together with a needle. It's a gruesome life, but one she was born to as a healer's daughter. Now, after ten years spent mastering her craft, Claire travels to the capitol of Carastille in hopes of forging her legacy.
But the road to Carastille is hard. When she finally arrives to stand before the king, Claire is penniless and without her precious medicines. Unimpressed, the king gives her an ultimatum: prove her worth as a healer or go home. For Claire, the choice is simple.
But then war comes, and soon Claire finds herself swept up in a world of fear and desire so terrifying it tears at the very heart of her convictions. Can Claire fight to find her glory or will her lofty ambitions prove to be her ultimate downfall?"
I hope you liked that blurb! But enough about me and Eaves. Let's talk about you, friend!
Do you feel more confident giving your characters unique voices now? Are there any additional tips or tricks you'd like to share or do you have any questions I can answer for you? Let me know in the comments below or shoot me a quick email.
I'd love to hear from you. Happy writing, m'dear!