As 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.