To round out December, I've decided to do a short series I like to call Shit I Learned in NaNo 2015. This week's topic: distinguishing between your characters' voices in dual first person POV.
*nervous laughter* I’m not sure how this is going to work, or how it’s going to sound, or if it’s even going to make a lick of sense, but hey, here we go.
The thing I've found that really helped me unlock my characters' unique voices, especially when writing in dual first POV, is getting inside their heads. Literally. Drop yourself inside their noggins, grab the controls, and pilot them around like a biplane. Figure out how they see the world.
This extends beyond just optimist/pessimist/realist, Myers-Briggs personality tests, zodiac shit, too.
The best way I can describe this is to compare my two main characters in my dual first POV MS that I drafted during this year’s NaNoWriMo. (Whether it’s actually a good example is another story because it’s definitely still in that what-is-all-this-shit rough draft stage lmao.)
Lemme start with Kiye. She’s a 20-something woman, one older brother, very poor background, not a whole lot of an education, rudimentary reading and writing capabilities, things like that.
What does that mean? She’s reached a certain level of maturity, a stage in life where she knows who she is but she’s questioning where she fits in in the grand scheme of things. She’s gaining awareness of what it’s like to be a working adult in the lower classes and trying to figure out how to make a living for herself. She doesn’t take a whole lot of crap thanks to her older brother’s antics when they were younger. She’s always prided herself on being self-sufficient, but has never really had the chance to test her self-sufficiency away from the safety net of her hometown.
Now, let’s take a look at Naan. She’s also a 20-something woman, but she’s the oldest sibling with a handful of younger half-siblings, mostly sisters. She was raised in the palace knowing that one day she would become the Pharaoh. Her mother is still around, but her father was assassinated because he was unpopular with their people.
What does that mean? She’s reached a very different kind of maturity, yet a similar level. Naan knows where she fits in in the grand scheme of things, but she’s coming to the realization of just how difficult her life is about to become. She doesn’t have to worry about making a living for herself. Instead, she’s worrying about how to keep her country safe from invaders and angry neighbors, recovering after the drought, and a thousand other things. Like Kiye, she doesn’t put up with a whole lot of crap, but for very different reasons. As the leader of a nation, that’s simply not allowed, especially when the title Pharaoh comes with the connotation god-like.
How can this translate onto the page?
There’s one simple way that I’ve found to work for me (for this MS, anyway): vary the vocabulary and speech patterns I use.
Kiye talks a lot like I do in my daily conversations. Simple words, choppier sentences, sarcasm, cursing. (Not a metric crap ton of cursing like me, but enough.) Little things to belie her poorer upbringing. This contrasts a lot with Naan, who is very poised, proper, mannerly, and very well-educated. If Naan were ever to curse, you can bet your ass it’s done in private, whereas Kiye will let a string of curses loose whenever she pleases, company be damned.
Adding on to that, Naan worries about her appearance quite often, not because of self-confidence issues, but because she is expected to project the appropriate image. Ra forbid the Pharaoh be caught dead in anything less than the highest quality clothing and jewelry!
Kiye worries about her appearance as well, but in a different way. She knows she doesn’t fit in in the capital, but she has no choice because competing in the Trials and winning is the only way to secure her family’s safety. She has a quality horse, but she can’t afford quality tack and clothing. Because of that, she’s got to fake it ‘til she makes it, otherwise the other Trials competitors are guaranteed to chew her up and spit her out.
Continuing here, Naan is constantly worried about her citizens. What’s the best way to protect them from the threat of war? How can she please them so they won’t assassinate her, too, while still continuing her father’s work, work that she knows to be the right path? Things like this permeate her every thought and are her greatest driving force.
Kiye, on the other hand, is concerned for her personal safety the most. Upon her arrival at the capital, she has got to get the hell outta Dodge before someone mistakes her for a horse thief and she gets arrested. Once she makes it to the Trials grounds, she’s got to worry about keeping face in front of the other competitors, especially since the ones who brutally attacked and disabled her mentor during the last Trials have entered again.
Other little things I use to my advantage include the very different company each woman keeps. Kiye is among the other competitors for two-thirds of the story while Naan is almost always surrounded by her court and her annoying vizier. When the girls do spend time together, I don’t rely on them saying/thinking each other’s names, either, but on physical cues. Kiye is taller than Naan, a conscious choice on my part, and Naan is short enough that she’s almost always physically looking up at others. Depending on whose POV I’m in, I’ll either mention how Kiye sometimes forgets how short Naan is in person, or how Naan is really quite sick of always having to look up at others even though she’s the pharaoh and her subjects should be looking up at her.
What this boils down to is: know your characters. (Oh, if I had a dollar for every time a blog post told me that!) Things like their upbringing, their education, and their personality belie their unique character voice, and those are the things you need to keep in mind while writing them.
So there you have it. How I differentiated between my two characters in my dual first POV MS that I drafted during NaNoWriMo. How about you guys? What are your go-to tricks for differentiating between characters in a dual POV story?