WIP: Hearing Voices

I’m cookin’, y’all! I finally made it past that backstory chapter that was really holding me up. I managed to cut four pages from twenty. It probably needs even more tightening, but I’ll catch it on the next draft. I reworked two chapters over the weekend and by the time I go to bed tonight, I should have two more finished.
What I’ve been thinking about today are my characters’ voices and the challenge of making sure each voice is unique to that character.  My four central characters are all in first person in my work-in-progress. In the past few days, I’ve written from Laurel’s point-of-view, then Maggie’s, then Marcus’s and now Laurel’s again. In a couple more chapters, I’ll be writing from Andy’s voice once more. This is both fun and hard work. I want a reader to be able to read a page or two from any chapter and know which character’s POV they’re in because the voice is that distinctive.
Let me introduce you to them.
Laurel is 41 and well-educated. Here’s a paragraph from one of her chapters:
There was only one stoplight on the twenty-six miles of Topsail Island. It sat a block from the beach in the heart of Surf City and it glowed red when my car approached it and was still red when I left it behind. If there’d been a dozen red lights, they wouldn’t have stopped me. People always told me I was a determined woman and I was never more so than the night of the fire.
Maggie is 17 and will soon graduate from high school. Here’s her voice:
 I’d talked Mom into letting Andy go to the lock-in that night. He was fifteen; she had to let go a little and besides, Emily’s mother was one of the chaperones. I hoped he was having a good time and remembering his manners. His grip on social etiquette was pretty lame. Would they have dancing at the lock-in? It cracked me up to imagine Andy and Emily dancing together.
Marcus is 38, and a career firefighter:
I sort of understood arson. I was the kind of kid who played with matches and I once set our shed on fire when we lived in Wilmington. I tried to blame it on Jamie, but my parents knew their saintly older son was incapable of such stupidity. I don’t remember my punishment. Just the initial thrill of watching Dad’s oily rags explode into flame on his work bench, then my terror as the fire began to spread. So I got it – the thrill, the excitement. But damn it, if some asshole had to start a fire, why a church filled with kids?
And finally, my darling Andy, 15, with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
Me and Emily were in the same special reading class two days a week. I’d known her my whole life almost, and she was my best friend. People said she was funny looking because she had white hair and one of her eyes didn’t look at you and she had a scar on her lip from an operation when she was a baby, but I thought she was pretty. Mom said I saw the whole world through the eyes of love. Next to Mom and Maggie, I loved Emily best. But she wasn’t my girlfriend. Definitely not.
So there you have it. Four different voices. At least I hope they sound different to you. And now I’d better get back to one of them if I have any hope of making it to bed tonight.   


  1. brenda on May 22, 2007 at 12:40 am

    Wow! Andy saying, “Me and Emily”…def…the voice of a teenager…
    You have it…
    Sounds intriguing and you are showing-not telling…I know them from a paragraph…
    Nothing stops Laurel…
    Maggie-l7…sounds like a teeny bopper, but they do not use “cracked me” up–any more…just a thought…I teach teenagers…that is if the story is set in this time zone )2007)..>They might use freaking…blew my mind…
    Also-instead of “to imagine”…thinking about…etc…
    See-I am a control freak when it comes to writing-I do that to my students-that is why I don’t want to read their drafts…just scan them…I change things…
    “It blows my mind to think of Andy and Emily dancing together…”
    It’s freaking unbelievable that Andy and EMily might be dancing together…”
    I listen to teenagers all day every day…
    They have me talking like them…
    “And you are telling me this because…”
    “Get with the program”
    Etc…amazing-the language of today.
    JUST FINISHED D. B. Frank’s …Mango Sunsets–you have to read it–it is one of her best yet…

  2. Margo on May 22, 2007 at 8:39 am

    I love these people already! Yes Diane, they definitely have their own voice and I can already picture the scenario. Thx for giving us a little glimpse of these soon to be friends!

  3. Diane Chamberlain on May 22, 2007 at 11:42 am

    thank you, brenda! i knew “crack me up” was wrong. in the manuscript, i actually have it “asterisked” ** to go back to when i think of the correct expression. you gave it to me.
    maggie is not your run of the mill teen, though, so she may have some thoughts that are not. . . well, run of the mill teen-type thoughts. but send any jargon my way if you think of it. it always helps.

  4. brenda on May 22, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    You and I think alike.
    Today I thought of you when one of the kids said, “Mrs. C, that boy is so not cool.”
    I returned with, “You are telling me this because….?”
    I talk like them, and they love it… A whole new jargon…
    Maggie sounds like a little student I have who does not speak like the others all the time-sometimes quite a serious little thing.

  5. brenda on May 22, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    Okay-I can’t concentrate on anything right now-end of school-some things going on in my life-concentration is a thing of the past…but I have to ask you this question.
    If the main character is well educated…what is with the child born with alcohol syndrome? Have I lost some emails…I doubt it as I read you religiously (sounds so pompous, doesn’t it?? 🙂 🙂

  6. Diane Chamberlain on May 22, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    >>If the main character is well educated…what is with the child born with alcohol syndrome?

  7. Margo on May 23, 2007 at 8:27 am

    What a tease Diane! I’ve been wondering the same thing Brenda has for quite some time.

  8. Trina Allen on May 23, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    Congratulations on finishing that backstory chapter. It must be a relief to you to be that much closer to completing the book.
    Your dedication to your characters’ voices is one of the things that draws me into your books. Now, I’ll get to know what it is like to experience Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder because you’ll take me there with Andy. I can’t wait to see what happens.

  9. Diane Chamberlain on May 23, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    Actually, I’m nervous about that, Trina. Jodee Kulp, the woman who has been my “consultant” on FASD is reading my first chapter in Andy’s voice right now, and I’m hoping I’m not way off the mark. . .

  10. brenda on May 23, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    No fair!!! I am thinking all kinds of things about what happened to Andy.
    Better grade some papers-off on Friday evening for a Mem. Weekend-a Triathalon-my son and all.
    I still can’t concentrate-illnesses-friends and my husband’s family members, etc. etc. Some things going on…I hope to get in the groove in the summer-so many trips to make.
    Wish the book were coming out today-I reread Cee Cee last night…
    I am reading one of the funny Julia books-takes place in Florida-ironic-because my son is prob. relocating there soon.

  11. brenda on May 23, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    P.S. Found out today that I need about 4 more college hours for another raise…go figure that one…Not sure how many I need for the one in South Carolina, but where I live, I’ll go up two steps (I think) but not the three I wanted…alas…I am just not in the mood right now-but maybe soon.
    Also-one of my former students–his brother was killed over the weekend on one of those ATV things-another brother is seriously injured…sad…sad…

  12. Diane Chamberlain on May 23, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    brenda, i’m sorry for all the illnesses and other troubles in your family and it’s especially sad about your former student. i wish boys didn’t have that “invulnerable” feeling about themselves.

  13. Margo on May 24, 2007 at 9:31 am

    Brenda, thinking of you and these hardships right now. Take care.

  14. brenda on May 24, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    Thanks girls…I agree about the little boys and their invulnerable attitudes…trying to be macho…

Leave a Comment