making them distinct
Whether you’re wrangling multiple points of view or just multiple characters who have speaking roles in your book, chances are you have a need to create several distinct voices. How can you make sure they don’t blur together? For that matter, when it comes to narrative personae, sometimes even the same character has multiple ways of being and speaking, different when they’re speaking to a child than directing an employee or deferring to someone of higher social status. And very different when they’re in control from when when they’re out of it.
To get a handle on all this, start setting up some rules for yourself. Which characters speak in correct English? Which use slang or profanity? Choose a characteristic delay or filler word or phrase (or two) -- um, ah, so, well, you know, etc. -- for each character. Chose nicknames that characters have for each other and limit them to particular characters, so, for example, only Bob ever calls Suxi “love” but he does so with regularity. Also think about sentence length and complexity. Which people are terse, and when do they ramble? Which usually go on and on, and when do they finally shut up? Allowing room for variation within each character according to their mood and situation, decide which characters are more direct, saying what they mean, and which talk about the weather or the price of tea, letting their ideas and feelings emerge through the cracks in the banalities or reveal story through physical actions. In this case, the obliqueness of their speech may be the key attribute.
Most of these considerations can be applied to narrators, of any point of view, just as well as to characters. Remember also that narrators can evolve. The adult Scout Finch who narrates To Kill a Mockingbird sounds different when musing from the distance of years than when telling the story of her childhood. The close third-person point of view of Ernie Pollit, in Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children is excited and entrepreneurial on p. 62, when Ernie is a mama's boy negotiating interest on the loan he extends to his mother, but on p. 415, after his mother has stolen the last remaining money in his lockbox, he is vacant and baffled, a boy who "did not know what had happened to him," who "was thinking something strange" but "did not know what it was."
PROMPT: Once you’ve thought through several characters or voice changes, pick up your story in a different place from where you last left off. Zero in on a different voice. Make a point of distinguishing the diction and syntax, sentence length and imagery from that of the prior one. Focus on heightening the differences, so that each voice feels unique and distinctive to the reader. Repeat again and again for your major characters at various moments in their arcs and for each narrative point of view.