We all know our main characters well – at least in our own heads. The trouble is making them seem as real and 3D on the page as they are in our mind’s eye. Because a great well-rounded character doesn’t have to be well liked, attractive, or do heroic things. A great character is one we can identify with on some level, and want to root for.
Your main characters deserve to be as unique as you are as a writer. They shouldn’t all sound the same, or sound like you. Each character should have a unique voice, because they’ll see the world a little differently than everyone else. What lenses do they view the world through? What do they notice, what do they work hard not to see, what makes them stop and stare? How is their worldview expressed through their thoughts and feelings?
“Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower.” Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games
This description does a lot more than show us what the cat looks like. It shows us how Katniss feels about the cat – eyes the color of rotting squash is hardly a term of endearment. In Katniss’ eyes, this cat has no redeeming features – what does that tell us about Katniss and how she sees the world? What does it say about how Katniss views Prim?
“I always order the banned books from a black market dealer in California, figuring if the State of Mississippi banned them, they must be good.”
~Katherine Stockett, The Help
Skeeter has such a unique perspective on the world. Who doesn’t love Skeeter – and Abileen? What a fantastic book to study for characterization. Each of the main characters is absolutely distinct and unique with a clear voice.
“I stroke her lightly, memorizing her body. I want her to melt into me, like butter on toast. I want to absorb her and walk around for the rest of my days with her encased in my skin. I lie motionless, savoring the feeling of her body against mine. I’m afraid to breathe in case I break the spell.” ~Sara Gruen, Water For Elephants
I love the way Jacob describes things. It’s like seeing the world through his eyes, the injustices, the unfairness – all of it. I root for him to win even though I don’t always agree with his perspective.
“I glanced down the road, heart thudding. Where is the stupid bus? And why did my dad have to be so big on mass transit, anyhow? Why couldn’t I own a car, like practically every other senior? But no, I had to ‘share the ride’ to save the environment. When I’m abducted by the menacing guy under the tree, Dad will probably insist my face only appear on recycled milk cartons…” ~Beth Fantaskey, Jessica’s Guide To Dating On The Dark Side
Jessica is an absolutely hilarious character. She’s funny, and a little quirky, but I want her to wiShe reminds me very much of Anne Hathaway’s character from the Princess Diaries movies. She’s this pessimistic outcast who sees things just a bit differently, with a good dose of sarcasm.
Do you struggle with creating unique character voice? Which character’s voice from a novel has stuck with you?