Nancy: Welcome, Lynne. Thanks for visiting the SinCNE blog. Someone I met once called you, “The Book Whisperer.” Certainly you’ve acted like a book whisperer for me—helping me break out of a mid-novel blockage by suggesting I try working backwards from the final scenes. Wonderful suggestion—it got me moving. Beyond forward momentun, we’ve also been working on craft. What is the most important thing a writer can do to improve their manuscript?
Lynne: I’m big on character. Readers might admire plot, but they fall in love with characters and, if they love them, they will follow them anywhere — even through a mediocre plot. So, when writers ask me how to move a plot forward or solve a plot problem, I often suggest that they go back to the characters and the core conflicts. They usually roll their eyes because everyone hates doing character sketches or doing more on their sketches but, for me, that’s usually where all the answers lie.
Nancy: One aspect of bringing a character to life is developing a clear voice. I’ve read that the definition of character voice is the sum total of the character’s personality, likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. Is that your take?
Lynne: It’s all those things. It’s also the sound of the character, the actual voice. Syntax, diction, rhythm, volume. It’s the character’s experiences and background and how they connect him to the world, and how the character incorporates what he’s seeing and feeling into the way he’s telling the story.
Nancy: You have been helping me get a better handle on character voice and, in particular, staying inside my characters’ heads.
Lynne: What you and I are usually talking about when we touch on this is point of view and narrative distance. Particularly for mystery or thriller writers, I like to keep the reader firmly in the protagonist’s POV so that he or she experiences all the action through that character’s eyes. That means not just dialogue, but introspection and observations are all in that character’s voice. We think in our own voices. We don’t have a narrator in our heads describing the action.
Nancy: As I’ve been learning. Here’s an actual before and after example of our work:
Before (authorial voice): “This disastrous morning, and the growing chasm between my niece and myself, leaves me longing for the peace of my garden.”
After (Character voice—her thoughts about her own actions): “What kind of idiot forgets to keep her electric scooter recharged? And ends up with a throbbing gash due to carelessness with a knife? And forgets to give her niece something important?”
Nancy: Once again, thank you, Lynne. I should add that when you advise writers, you come from a place of experience. You have four published novels featuring detective Alex Shanahan. For more on Lynne’s books, go to http://www.lynneheitman.com. Lynne’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.