Feb 15, 2012

Following the Voices

For most people, writing the first three chapters of a new novel is super-happy fun time. I am not most people. The first three chapters are my hardest. The middle? That's my happy place, where I'm comfortable with the characters and I've thrown out enough plot threads I can relax and happily weave. Wacky hijinx ensue.

I haven't written enough books for me to say this will always be the case, but it is the case right now. Part of the trouble is finding the voices of my main characters. I write romance, so I have two protagonists. One of them has always come with the story idea, fully formed and yapping in my ear. The other voice can be elusive. Makes those first chapters grueling writing.

The past week I've been struggling with this. I knew who the hero was, his goals/motivation/conflict. In fact, Wyatt was that character who materialized with the story idea. But he came without a voice. My heroine, whom I had to root around for, had a voice the instant I settled on her background and personality. But Wyatt's been giving me fits.

A few days of grumbling, watching shows/movies starring the actor I've cast in the part, and I still had nothing. Character questionnaires do nothing for me, so that was out. I went whining to a friend for advice, and that helped. Writing a short background in first person helped, too. Gave me a few more insights, helped me figure out what I didn't like about the scenes I'd written, let me fix them(I think).

But I like having a system for settling problems: Do X, Y, and Z and you can overcome _____ in three easy steps! It's comforting. It helps me keep believing I can do this writing thing. I've vanquished this problem. I found this zombie's off-switch by shooting it in a bunch of places, and when the next one comes groaning and shuffling my way, I can just shoot it in the head and move on. No problem! You know, the kind of delusional thinking that lets you keep writing.

What do you do when a character refuses to talk? Do you slog it out in the manuscript? Don't worry about voice differences until editing? Know any easy solutions? I'm all ears.

Oh, and because I'm still baking(to wean us off store-bought bread), look: slits!-->


  1. I think this is a tough one! I do do character sheets before I start but that doesn't always work. In fact I know exactly what you mean. I can picture my hero, I know his inner conflicts, I understand his motivation but he isn't really talking. At the moment I am just ignoring this fact and getting down a first draft of drivel that is funnily enough nearly all in the heroines POV (very rare for me) Once I complete this first draft I will try rewriting certain scenes in his POV for the second draft. If he won't cooperate I will have to torture him...thats my plan so far. But of very little help I suspect! Nina x

    1. Ahh, the Count Rugen(Princess Bride) method of making your characters talk. Put misbehaving character on The Machine, then calmly ask them how they feel. I like it, though I imagine I would get distracted by devising devilish and ridiculous forms of torture. High distractability rating, but fun for a rainy afternoon. :)

  2. I can't do character sheets either. I've found the best method is to think about it. Sounds kind of obvious but when I get into a new story I get a rush of blood to the head and just start writing without thinking things through first. Anyway, I have found that thinking about the character and their background and what kind of person they might be BEFORE I start writing really helps.
    That's probably no help at all of course. I do find though that one character is usually louder than the other. Idiots. :-)

    1. I always think I'm slow to write, because I take a long while planning and exploring the plot to make sure it's big enough to fill a book before I even try to engage with the characters enough to write them. It could be that I'm just not exploring the characters themselves enough during the plot process to achieve pre-writing cohesion.

      Though, in my quest to identify and come up with fixes for problems I tend to have, this time I actually didn't fall into the same early trap as the two manuscripts did(three times), so maybe I am learning from my mistakes! That would be awesome if it were true.

  3. I know exactly what you mean, Amalie. Although my issues don't stop with the first three chapters - I find it hard work the whole story through! In a good way, of course. Rewarding, and all of that :)

    I tend to develop the conflict, motivation and plot before I start writing, and with that comes substantial knowledge of my characters. But the only way to find their voices is to write and let them speak for themselves. I often get to the end of chapter three before the hero/heroine act and speak in a way that is unique to them. Once this is apparent, I rewrite the way they talk/behave in the previous chapters for consistency, and can then write the rest of the story. Until that magic moment happens, when my characters come into their own, I feel like I'm writing blind. Plot is good, conflict is working, but my characters are like actors who haven't read the script properly. When they finally do, it's a huge relief!

    Love the look of that bread!
    Madeline x

    1. Oh, yea, the whole book is hard work, but the most excruciating chapters for me are the first three. And then the last one, in that order. At the end I agonize over whether I'm being cheesy or forgetting anything, or predictable. I like the no-pressure middle.

      I think I pretty much do what you do as well, so far. Get to the end, then go back and fix the part before I actually found the voice. It can change things fairly drastically though, so I'm still on the hunt for a pre-writing system of Knowing Everything.


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