By Terry Overton
As a new writer curious about the craft of writing, I aspired to learn all aspects of writing fiction. Authors’ voices, writing styles, and uniquely developed characters are fascinating. How was Hemmingway’s writing different from Fitzgerald or Austin? How are the styles of contemporary fiction authors different from writers of years past? How can authors have such different writing styles, yet all be loved and revered by readers across the ages? How can one author create a host of unique characters in one story? How do authors write authentic characters across different genres and age groups? How can authors of Christian fiction master these skills?
The art of maintaining an author’s unique voice across characters, ages, and points of view, can be challenging and require the author to stretch their normal writing process. While the debate between authors who are “plotters” and authors who are “pantsers” concerns the outline or plot process, the subtle differences in tweaking characters of the story may require more thinking, practice, and wordsmithing. There are fun ways to experiment with your characters’ voices, ages, and points of view, during the writing process. You might find some of these ideas in different writing contests. Here are a few:
- Character perspectives of a scene in your story challenge. An elderly woman, a teenage boy, and a young child, all witness a car crash. How would their perceptions and inner thoughts differ? What would be the first comments from each character? How would the wisdom of age temper the thoughts and words of the elderly woman? Would the teenager impulsively blurt out words they might regret later? Would the teen be concerned or afraid about their own driving skills? Would the teen be more worried about making an impression than making sense? Would the young child be so terrified by the noise they would be afraid to ride in a car following the accident?
- Dialogue story challenge. Dialogue stories are fun. Can you tell a story of 1,000 words or so, using nothing but dialogue? Can you tell the story between two characters? Three or more? Would the reader be able to distinguish information about the characters’ histories and personalities based on their dialogue? Would a veteran of combat be distinguishable from the college age student who has not yet found his way or a well-established businesswoman or an experienced homemaker? Would the male character’s voice be noticeably different than the female? How would the adult’s dialogue be different than the child’s words? Could the reader tell the difference between a parent and a single friend with no children? Would the person from New York be distinguished from the one from Texas?
- Make it shorter and shorter writing challenge. This can help the author boil the story down to the most important parts and convey the important aspects of each character. Using a story you have already written, no matter the length, retell the story with the same characters using only 1,000 words. Now, boil it down to 100. Finally, can you tell the entire story in 50 words or less? Next, try the same activity but this time, tell the story from each of the characters’ points of view. How does each character relay the same information from the experience they had in your story? How does their history change the way they tell the story? Does their own history cause them to downplay or overlook certain parts of the story?
Think of other ways to stretch your thinking and your writing. What other creative exercises work for you?
Terry Overton obtained her Ph.D. in Psychology and her Ed. D. in special education. As a retired professor, she began her second “career” writing Christian books in 2016. She hopes to touch the lives of her readers and kindle their faith with her novels, middle grade readers, and picture books.