Voice by Lucienne Diver

lucienneAs part of our February gift to our readers, I’m very pleased to be able to introduce our guest blogger for this week. Agent Lucienne Diver of The Spectrum Literary Agency has graciously agreed to share her views on Voice. Please feel free to drop in and see what she has to say.

FROM ANH TO UNFORGETTABLE:

A lot of discussions seem to center on what separates a “like but don’t love” manuscript from a “gotta have.” There can be many things — the rapid-fire pacing, clever plotting, the opportunity to see inside a world we’d never otherwise know, but more often than not what draws me in to a book is character.

So, what makes a memorable character?

Quirks:
Your characters should live and breathe for you. Part of what defines a person is his or her quirks. No one is without them. My hard-biting-est, snarkiest friend has a soft spot for Barbies and Hello Kitty. Some hard science fiction writers are technophobes. You get the idea. Real people are not stock characters whose every interest goes to define their type. We’re sometimes inconsistent, indecisive, cranky, human.

Voice:
Your viewpoint character is the lens though which the reader sees the world. A lens can warp images, color them, magnify or diminish them. Voice should do the same. Descriptions will be filtered through a character’s unique perceptions and way of expressing him or herself. A character is truly unique if no one else in the world would put the same thing in quite that way. Not sure what I mean? Pick up a Kinky Friedman novel.

Emotional connection:
It’s not enough for your character to be real or cool. There are some real people I’m not all that fond of and some cool folks with whom I have no common ground. While it’s true that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, you’re best bet is to give us characters we can identify with and make the stakes personal enough so that we can’t stop turning the pages to find out what happens to them.

Background:
Remember that a person is shaped by his or her background and build your characters accordingly. A fully developed character won’t just be smarmy/wise-cracking/suspicious/timid without some history there. The reader doesn’t necessarily need to know all of it, but if you as a writer don’t, chances are you need to dig deeper.

Caveats:
Your characters should become so real that they surprise you, but you still have to wrest back the story from them if they get carried away. Becoming too enamored of dialogue or character bits can slow the forward momentum of the plot if you’re not careful, so it is important to maintain a balance.

Of course, the most important thing is to entertain. Grip the reader so that he or she absolutely has to come along for the ride. If that means your characters reach out from the page, grab us by the collar and sweep us along, so much the better.

About Liz Kreger

Liz Kreger writes science fiction/romances and to date, has two books published by Samhain Publishing ... FORGET ABOUT TOMORROW and PROMISE FOR TOMORROW. Liz is presently branching out to contemporary paranormals and is experimenting with urban fantasy.
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15 Responses to Voice by Lucienne Diver

  1. Edie Ramer says:

    Lucienne, great blog! My characters surprise me all the time–and it’s not always a good surprise either. And they talk inside my head. πŸ˜†

  2. LaDonna says:

    Lucienne, thanks for sharing! I need to pick up a Kinky Friedman novel too. Like Edie, my characters surprise me all the time. If they don’t, I realize I need to dig deeper.

  3. Wonderful blog, Lucienne–thank you! You’ve addressed the aspects of character clearly and succinctly with great visual examples.

    Thank you for your time!
    Nancy Haddock

  4. Michelle says:

    Thanks for a great blog, Lucienne. I love it when my characters surprise me. Thank you for summing up what separates a great manuscript from a good one.

  5. Liz Kreger says:

    Thanx for sharing your views with us, Lucienne. Characters are fascinating critters. You never quite know what they’re going to say … or not say.

    A lot of people seem to forget that in a novel, different characters have different personalities. Nothing knocks me out of a story faster than the H/H sounding like the same person … just different genders. Everyone has different inflections, different mannerism, different thoughts. Makes the characters interesting.

  6. racy li says:

    Thanks for the great post! I hate characters that all sound alike. So much, including background, class, status, education can be conveyed in dialogue word choices. I think that helps to contribute to a unique “voice.”

  7. One of the reasons I love reading romance is because the characters are so important. Plot doesn’t matter so much, but characters are everything.

    I love thinking about what makes characters work. Look at Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ book Ain’t She Sweet. Arguably, neither the hero nor the heroine is very likeable. And yet, that book pulled me in from page one. I really wanted them to get together. How did SEP pull that off?

  8. Liz Kreger says:

    I’m with you Teresa. A book could have the greatest plot, but if the characters aren’t compelling, I lose interest. I need to have a vested interest in the people in order to enjoy the story.

  9. Theresa says:

    Lucienne,

    Wonderful post. I love seeing through the eyes of an agent, if only for a moment.

    Teresa, I’m right there with you. Characters are everything to me. If I can’t get into the characters, I can’t get into the book. The plot isn’t nearly as important to me, as the characters.

    Theresa

  10. Zoe Winters says:

    Thanks for the blogpost Lucienne.

    My goal is to keep people from sleep, eating and bathroom breaks to read my book. Cause I’m a little sadist. muahahahaha. I guess I’ve got to get it out there to see if I’ve accomplished that goal.

    πŸ™‚

  11. Lucienne and the rest of you ladies.

    When you read about a character, can you relate to “something” in the character, even if you have different backgrounds? For instance, if the character is a 40 year old virgin, can you relate to a woman who would give up everything to care for sick parents in hopes of gaining their love? Would you be more concerned with her virgin status than her her belief she owes her parents? Even if you believe you would leave selfish parents as soon as you could, would you then not be able to read about this woman?

    I ask because I read about characters with whom I have no experience to help me relate but I can usually find some emotion with which to relate. Do you stop reading a book if the first things you see aren’t things with which you can relate?

    Some books I have read and eventually loved have main characters who are vacuous or selfish or self centered or otherwise not admirable, on the surface, maybe promiscuous.

    I’m asking for literal reasons and figurative reasons.

    Mary Marvella

  12. Diane Henry says:

    Thank you. When my son would talk to me until the wee hours of the morning about his main characters father, who is barely mentioned in his novel, I thought he was crazy. He told me that you couldn’t understand a character until you knew where he came from. I guess he was right.

  13. In answer to Mary Marvella:

    I think you have a hurdle to overcome if you’ve got a character who’s difficult for the reader to relate to, but it’s not insurmountable. If the character is so real that we accept her point of view because we see it through the lens of her personality and experiences, then we might start to relate. It may even expand our empathy and world view. If there’s something that keeps me reading — wonderful voice, vivid use of language — I won’t stop just because I’m having trouble relating, but I’m not sure how far I’ll get ultimately.

  14. Edie Ramer says:

    Mary, that’s a great question! I don’t relate to many of the characters in romantic suspence books, especially when the scene is written in the killer’s pov. If the writer makes it fascinating enough, I’ll read on. Of course, in an RS, the stakes are usually high enough to hold our attention.

    I don’t write RS.

    I can think of other characters too. Look at the Regency hero who has to marry in order to pass on his line. Although I think that premise might be getting old, I’ve read it many times.

    I don’t write historical romances either. πŸ˜€

  15. Theresa says:

    Mary,

    As long as the characterization is there, and enough backstory so I know the character’s history– I can relate to pretty much anything. As long as the characters are walking, talking, breathing people to me, I’ll believe anything the author presents.

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