Heaven Should Fall Guest Post by Rebecca Coleman
HEAVEN SHOULD FALL
Guest Post by REBECCA COLEMAN
What is your advice to other writers on how to effectively write from multiple points of view and still make each character sound genuine?
I take it as a high compliment when readers tell me I write a very convincing sexual predator. A good teenage boy, too. One of my most triumphant moments, pre-publication, was when my beta readers highly praised a scene in which the protagonist puts on contact lenses for the first time. I've never worn glasses. My vision is 20/20. That "write what you know" stuff? Bugger that.
One of the trickier aspects of writing a novel that makes use of multiple points of view is distinguishing the voices from one another-- and somehow silencing your own "accent" among every one of them. Ever read a story where each first-person character sounds suspiciously like the same actor wearing a different stick-on mustache? I hate that. Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible was a revelation for me because I could open the book up to any page-- any page-- and know exactly which of the women was speaking. My own challenge, with Heaven Should Fall, was to be a 21-year-old man turned homegrown terrorist. And his girlfriend. And his mom.
Some of this is ephemeral: an ear for dialogue, a sense that it "sounds right." But other tricks are honest-to-God gadgets in my writer's toolbox. Men use fewer pronouns than do women, and more directional terms: that's what I learned from the "Gender Genie," an online tool for analyzing whether a writing sample is the work of a male or a female, and I have to admit that generalization bears out. Regional speech patterns, now only a search-box away thanks to YouTube, are another good marker. In Heaven Should Fall, two of my point-of-view characters are from rural New Hampshire. Entire days of my writing process went into watching "Regional Dialect Meme" videos on YouTube and researching colloquial slang. Getting these things pitch-perfect, so far as we are able, can't be underestimated. I loved Emma Donoghue's Room, but when her American character jokingly calls her son "slowcoach," my suspension of disbelief dropped me right into the abyss. When have you ever heard an American say "slowcoach"? They don't. (Though they don't say "bugger" either, so I suppose I make an unconvincing American author.)
The crucial point is to seek variance among the voices. My character Cade is more apt to focus on mechanical details, employ profanity, break into snarky asides and use an adverb at the end of a sentence; his mother Leela peppers her speech with the religious leanings that are never far from her mind, apologizes for herself, and will speak a whopper of a truth in five small words. Each of these qualities distinguishes them from Jill, the protagonist, who carries the burden of the unfolding narrative. None of that is an accident, because outlining in your mind how a character will speak is as important as outlining the story.
And finally, never lose sight of each character's motivation, because motivation is the last word in informing voice. Every character wants something different, and each speaks from a place of seeking it. Bear that in mind always, and you can be confident that their voices and yours will not sound suspiciously alike. Which is a good thing, since I write a mean sexual predator.
Cade unlocked the door, and Elias stepped inside. He set his pack down on the floor beside the futon and looked around: at the mannequin head with the dart stuck in it, the poster of
a trio of blonde girls in bikinis posing on a beach, the dryerase board above the old metal desk that was the central piece of furniture in the living room. He caught sight of the photo clipped to Stan’s computer monitor—of Stan in a black suit and tails, popping out his lapels with his thumbs and flanked by two transvestites in full regalia.
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