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The Mysteries of Voice: Personality

Last night, I had something of an epiphany. Now, don't get too excited – I've had this particular epiphany several times. You'd think I'd learn, but no. I have to relearn it with every Work in Progress, it seems.

What was this epiphany? Oh, yeah, I should probably talk about that.

I pulled out Shattered Magic, my 2008 Nano novel and realized that my characters' personalities weren't coming through. And in a couple of cases, they didn't *have* personalities.

Basically, I don't know some of these characters well enough. And I don't know some of these characters at all. Once in particular seems to have the personality of a fish and his only roll is that of observer.

But some of the characters in this story shine through. Villar is a villain who thinks he's a hero (he dies either at the beginning of the story or just before the beginning), Erisa is the caregiver and Natayla is the "Lady of Chaillot" – all mystical, but in a powerful way.

The next step for this story is to write out backstory scenes of those characters that have no personality, so I can make them real. Those scenes won't be part of the story (well, maybe a flashback, if it fits), but that's not what they're for. They're for getting to know the characters.

Only when I know who the characters are, can I reveal them to the reader. Have you ever realized that you have a generic character taking up space in your novel?


The Abbot was like that, before I realized another story I'd written was *his* backstory. My main characters just come—I know who they are and what they do, though I don't know specifics until I write something down. But the supporting cast is trickier.
I've got one MC in Shattered Magic whose backstory turned out to be a short story that a friend wrote. :D
Yeah, sometimes it's all except a couple of MCs, who usually arrive with backstory baked in. I find focusing on secondary characters long enough to give them personality very difficult.
Sometimes what I'll do is interview those secondary characters, and sometimes I'll sit around people-watching, and use the folks I see as templates for secondary characters.

When I do that, the secondary characters can seem more 3-D than the MC's
Oh, yeah. Unfortunately it was the main character in my first novel attempt. I wrote 45K before another character wandered on stage that I really connected with and I saw the difference. That one's in the trunk, although I want go back to it someday and see if I can fix it.

I'm not completely sure if the problem was lack of back story though. All the other, more successful subsequent viewpoint characters have been male.I've written a couple of secondary female characters in the current WIP that I think have been more successful, but I'm still a little unsure how to go back to Sara and fix things.
Sometimes starting over from scratch is the only way to "fix" things. That's what I'm afraid I'll need to do with my first novel attempt - Fire and Silk.
Have you ever realized that you have a generic character taking up space in your novel?

Yes and it has taken years to iron her out and make her a character instead of a cardboard cutout.