When you’re bringing the story in your head to life, you’re going to want to consider all your options. In most circles, choosing the point of view (POV) you’re writing from, is one of the biggest – right up there with your chosen tense. This may sound simple enough so far, but what happens when you want to let the reader see inside more than one character’s head? If you’re not careful, things could get really messy really fast. But if done well, writing multiple voices can be a great tool to allow your reader the freedom to float beyond the limits of the page, and hold onto their own opinions as they sort through the narrative.
This week, I’m breaking down five super effective ways to make sure that everyone knows who’s who. The last thing you want is for your story to feel interrupted by your reader having to search for the last time the character’s name was mentioned.
1. Utilize Natural Page Breaks
This is probably the most straightforward piece of advice. All I mean by this is that if you start a new chapter, that’s a great place to write from another point of view. Just make it obvious with a character’s name as the heading. Coming in as a close second for the best place to employ this multiple voices is when you input a scene break.
2. Emphasize Speech Pattern Quirks
Maybe one character is the CEO of a large company – so they’ve been trained to speak to crowds with power and authority. Meanwhile, the young unpaid intern is still finding their voice – and they tend to mumble when put on the spot. These differences not only signal personalities, tone, and age – but also developmental stages. That’s why handling multiple voices is so important to master when crafting your story.
3. Acknowledge Dialects and Cultural Characteristics
It’s a slippery slope – diving too far into phonetic dialects – but it can also be an effective technique for differentiating character voices. As long as you’re careful not to get things too muddled with insulting stereotypes, it makes for a more intuitive reading experience. That being said – fight the urge to spell out every single word in phonetics. That’s not fun for anyone to have to weed through. Instead, apply context per your careful research and let your reader’s imagination fill in the rest.
4. Introduce Backstories
Similarly to the way the best villains always have reasons for being the way they are, main characters should also exist within a given worldview. Maybe a traumatic childhood experience rendered one character morbidly afraid of heights, while another is cynical because of past relationship drama. When you establish these backstories, they function as helpful rationales as to why a given character might process their world a certain way. This further contributes to the intuitive means by which your reader can then ascertain who’s speaking and when. For more help working with unreliable narrators, read this article HERE.
5. Monitor Motivations
What does each character want more than anything else in the world? Center their dialogue and personality around whatever that is. When your reader “meets” each one, they’ll be able to easily keep track of who’s doing what – and more importantly, why. Maybe the young mom desperately wants to make it big on Broadway, and will do whatever it takes to work her way there. Or maybe the tired and jaded social worker just wants to retire early to have more time to spend with his ailing wife. Possibilities are endless, but the reasons have to both make sense, and fit your story. Balance both of those elements with your character voices, and you’ll be golden.
When in doubt, remember a time where you read a book that handled multiple voices either really well, or really poorly. What did you like, or not like, about that story? Emulate (or avoid) the things you’ve listed. Imagine how the reader will perceive what you’re doing. Even though you know your story cold, sometimes stepping away is a critical part of the process, because it allows you to read it all over again with much fresher eyes. As long as you write what you enjoy reading, your readers will love your story too.