Developing a voice: let your characters speak


“Come into my parlor,” said the spider to the fly.

We don’t need to be told that the spider is both evil and persuasive. In your mind you already have those pictures. We can hear the oily sounds without being told that they are, indeed, as slick as Teflon.

“Y’got that right, dude!” This character is neither a fly nor a spider. But you can guess his age, just by those few words.

It’s far easier, of course, to tell the reader how characters sound rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. But you’re a word smith, no longer a beginner, and you know how to make your people sing or growl without saying, “she sang” or “he growled.”

So, since we know how to make our characters growl, we also know that the biker growling in the bar, or yelling profanities across the room, is probably not designed for a Christian audience, a young adult audience, or for children. At least I would hope not.

But is your novel for women rather than men? How would you write that? Is your audience for the nerdy sci-fi crowd who has to know how Edward Scissorhands uses the bathroom, or the romantic who must experience lots of touching and suggestive phrasing?

Before you ever write your story, this is the question you need to ask. What kind of a person is likely to be interested in my story and the way I write my story? Then engage that reader with your well-crafted prose.

Never fall into the trap that claims, “My story is for everyone.” It isn’t. The narrower you focus your audience, the more successful your story will be.

Let’s go back to the biker bar for a moment. If your story is action-adventure, introspection is not what you’ll be using very much, if at all. The biker (and the reader) will be more interested in making sure his next action gets the results he wants, down to the last expletive.

If your story is a romance, the biker shouting vulgarities is probably not your heroine’s future lover, neither would your reader want him to be. If the story is a mystery, the biker will have information your reader wants to discover.

Each scene will promote the plot of your story, in the same voice. You won’t, for example, bore your action-oriented reader with specifics on how electricity works, which is more what your nerdy sci-fi reader will demand. Well, he probably already knows that, but he or she will definitely want to know how a plasma generator works. But you’ll lose your romance reader the moment you introduce a plasma generator.
Does that mean you must lose your own voice (the way you unfold a story) just to satisfy your reader? Not exactly. But you will need to satisfy your reader if you want a repeat buyer.

So if you’re into writing just to satisfy your own ego, by all means, write whatever you want in any way you want. But if you want a following, and you love tantalizing your audience with the next great story, it is vital that you know your audience, and that you leave your audience satisfied with one story while you leave them begging for another.

Patricia Scholes

Science fiction novelist Patricia Scholes is working on the fourth book in her Lorekeeper of the Tapestry series, The Landkeepers. Her first three in this series are: Her Darkest Beauty, Steps of the Dance and Her Dark Inheritance. All are available through To contact her directly email


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