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I'm currently writing a novel with 3-4 character POVs in it - two male, two female. Each have different upbringings, different cultural backgrounds, different professions, different motivators and driving factors - in short, how the characters think, the entire worldview, it changes from chapter to chapter.
So how do I change my writing to reflect the character voice, when it is just my voice as the writer, bleeding through all of them?
Also, how does the writing style change? Between male and female POVs, between different professions? Do male tend to use more stilted sentences than female characters? How does the voice change in, say, a warrior, as compared to a mathematician or a linguist?

  • Read some of the later Iron Druid books for an example of this. Each chapter is from the POV of one of three characters, and it's pretty clear from the text itself who is doing the narration. – Mike A. Sep 10 '18 at 23:24
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Well, kind of a wide question, but you already got the hang of it:

the entire worldview, it changes from character to character

The whole point is having a clear idea of who your character are. As you mentioned, gender, upbringing, profession, culture, and personality are all factors that determine one character worldview and should, by all means, influence the PoV.

You can play this in a number of ways. For example, you may have the PoV of a shy or introvert character. Maybe we already know that this character seldomly talks, and when he does he uses as few word as possible. But, by contrast, his PoV may be rich of vivid descriptions and images, meaning that this character keeps a very keen eye on the world around him and he's much more involved in things that he shows.

Another character may appear as happy, out-going and cheerful type.

When switching to this PoV, you could show how this character struggles to maintain his positive attitude even when he's feeling blue or pissed off. Maybe he struggles to smile to feel more accepted in his community. Maybe he's not so happy at all.

Those are just two examples, the point being that entering the PoV of a character allows you - as the writer - to show the readers how does character thinks and feels.

A character's profession and cultural background also greatly determines how a character describes the world. An engineer will use more scientific terms, an academic professor will sound more literate than most ... but also, hobbies come into play: a football fanatic will use football metaphors, and so on.

Also, characters - as humans - are essentially biased, and it shows. You can use the PoV of a character to show the reader its worldview ... even the unsavory parts of that. A character may be a neat freak, and will comment on the hygenic condition of everything he sees. A character may dislike long-haired men, and may comment negatively everytime he sees one.

Also, how does the writing style change?

That's a tricky point. As other are saying, you can't completely change your writing style to suit the PoV, and also, you want some kind of cohesion in your novel.

The writing style can change if you feel confident enough to do it (there are authors who write with multiple PoVs, switching from first person to third person when needed) but this is ultimately up to you.

In the end you need to write how you write best; if you decide that the entire book should be in first person, and that you don't like to use long, sophisticated sentences, you can still use different PoVs working inside those premises.

The golden rule, in the end, is: characterize your PoVs as you characterize your characters.

  • That explained a lot. Thanks! The part about changing writing styles, though - where you mentioned that I could switch from first to third person POVs between characters - that isn't necessarily the solution though, is it? Its just a way of tricking the reader. The characters with 1st person POV are considered more primary than those with 3rd person; and it just makes the reader perceive different characters differently. +1 for the detailed explanation, though! – Bumble Bee Sep 10 '18 at 17:18
  • @BumbleBee You're right: I mentioned that only because the book I'm reading actually does that, but it's no where a requirement (alas, it can be confusing, also!). I'm glad I gave some advice. – Liquid - Reinstate Monica Sep 10 '18 at 17:20
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    I've read a few books where on the 10+th reading, I noticed that whenever a character who liked clothes entered a room, the description of the room focused on fabrics and felts and cuts of the occupants. Political character's chapters would describe faces for hints about rank or personality, and farmer character's chapters would focus on textures and smells. It was a neat realization, because I totally missed it at first, because it worked so well. – Mooing Duck Sep 10 '18 at 17:33
  • @MooingDuck, that's really interesting, can you give an example of such books? – hmijail Sep 12 '18 at 11:06
  • @hmijail: I don't recall anymore. It may have been the Wheel of Time series where I first noticed it. – Mooing Duck Sep 12 '18 at 17:00
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There is a simple answer to this, but one you won't necessarily like.

There is no way to do it unless you are able to think like your characters. It's true that you can fake it to some extent (indeed, taking care of aspects such as the ones you mentioned, like gender, profession, upbringing, etc) but it all boils down to one thing:
You have to write them being them, not yourself. Being a fiction author is to an extent a schizophrenic thing, and it's things like this that reveal it.

The truly maddening thing, of course, is that there has to be a unifying element that makes each chapter or part (? You don't specify in which way you plan to deploy the different POVs) a part of a grand narrative whole. That's where your own voice has to come through.

Consider yourself as the Grand Eye surveying the world of your novel. Each character tells their own story, and you must become simply a medium for them to tell their story. Then, you have to be...you again, and bring it all together.

It probably sounds a bit mad, I suppose, but one reason is that I've tried to offer an objective graspable answer for something that many (most?) writers pull off semi-unconsciously.

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    Rather than describing it as schizophrenic, you might compare it to acting. Tom Hanks talks differently than Forrest Gump, Sheriff Woody, or Robert Langdon. – Thunderforge Sep 10 '18 at 16:44
  • "The truly maddening thing, of course, is that there has to be a unifying element that makes each chapter or part a part of a grand narrative whole." I like that. I guess the real reason I ended up asking this is that I am afraid I will end up assimilating my characters into a single entity, rather than unifying them. – Bumble Bee Sep 10 '18 at 17:07
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    IMO, to unify without assimilating them, you should focus on the things that exist beyond the text: symbolism, style, allegory, wider meanings. Think as your characters when they speak and act, but edit (choose how & why something is shown) as yourself – user16555 Sep 10 '18 at 17:10
  • I like that. Write as your characters think, no matter how sloppily you feel you are representing them; edit to make sure their threads form the weave you want the story to be; Is that right? – Bumble Bee Sep 11 '18 at 10:30
  • More or less, yeah. It's a good starting point. I think that with experience it gets easier to write as your characters think without even being cognitively aware that you're doing it. – user16555 Sep 11 '18 at 11:00
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How do the people speaking around you, wherever you are, speak differently? How do your favorite authors give characters different voices?

Here are a few ways your characters might differ:

  • Different vocabularies
  • Different sentence lengths and complexities
  • Different speeds
  • Verbosity vs brevity
  • Some think before they speak, while others speak their immediate, unfiltered thoughts
  • Some use metaphors, some are more direct and clear
  • Some talk about higher issues, others about concrete details
  • Some are storytellers, others talk about ideas and hypotheticals

Those are just off the top of my head, before my morning caffeine.

  • Writers tend to be noticers. We pay attention to nearby conversations, listening for interesting words and phrases, voices, techniques for diverting and fibbing, etc. – Ken Mohnkern Sep 10 '18 at 15:25
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Answering another question I got into a back and forth with regard to 'write what you know' vs 'research'. This is an area where 'write what you know' certainly wins out. The limit and breadth of your characters is governed by how many impressions you can do.

Note that I used 'back and forth' rather than 'debate' or 'argument' - stole that little gem from the White House press secretary. Voice and dialogue is something you need to learn by listening rather than reading. You can develop an ear by listening in the strangest of places. You want to learn the voice of an English professor? - Listen to UK cricket commentary. You want a well-educated African-American father . . . listen to an Obama speech.

And you shouldn't put the cart before the horse. My stories usually contain English white girls, US Valley girls, US Hispanic women, Bigoted right-wing men . . . because these are the voices I am good at. I don't have a demure Japanese character because I cannot do that voice.

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Let me second what several people appear to have said because it bears repeating:

It's not the writing style that changes between characters and their particular POVs it's got to be your outlook, you have to be able to identify with the character who POV you are using in order to write them well.

There are a number of book series where the author can't or won't identify fully with their POV characters and they are notable for their flatness of affect; all the narrators sound the same even though one is a ten year old girl and the other an 80 year old man. Authors need a clear understanding of each of their characters to write successfully from their POV.

What differentiates characters on the page? Internal voice is a big one, you can tell people apart by what they say and how they say it out loud, the same is true for how people talk to themselves. This includes their personal attitudes coming through in what they say but should also encompass deliberate dialectic choices and also show their level of education and environment past and current.

A slightly more subtle thing is what I think of as "detail apprehension"; what kinds of things does character A notice versus character B and how do those things effect them? For example character A might notice the spray of blood on the wall of the apartment or the haze of gunsmoke in the lobby after a shootout and get tense; meanwhile character B notices the copper/iron smell of spilled blood before they see it and the cordite smoke wafting on the breeze as they approach the hotel, the first makes them queasy and glad it's not them while the second excites them with the promise of action.

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The others have pretty much said everything that needs to be said. Unless you have sufficient capacity to empathise with others, you're gonna have a hard time. If you are finding it difficult to get into the head of others... yeah, it's gonna be difficult for you.

In order to give different POVs different voices, all you truly need in your skillset is the ability to think as another person thinks. Have you ever tried to understand the point of view of someone else even though it isn't your own? Or comforted a person grieving a relative that you personally don't know or care about?

That is the only skill you truly need, and most humans, being social animals, come pre-packaged with it. You need to hit the update patch at around six years old for your 'empathy' function to kick in, but it does with most humans.

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For your characters I would tabulate GOALS, SKILLS they're comfortable using, FEARS and threats they perceive, RESTRICTIONS and disadvantages such as health or ethnicity

When switching characters I'd start with some obvious 'bang' to jolt the reader out of their natural continuity. If you can lead up to it from the last scene or some earlier scene then that's great. For example earlier Fred was looking up at a tiny figure halfway up a cliff face... Now switch to that figure. These signposts are not corny. Remember most readers are not studying your book for an exam, so they need hand-holding.

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It is critical that you use different FONTS for each person "unless not practical". Different font sizes are especially effective.

HEY CHARACTER 1, WHAT TIME IT IS?

oh hello 2 that is a secret

  • Hi Chris! Welcome to Writing.SE! You might find it helpful to take a look at out tour and help center pages. Could you please elaborate - on what do you base the claim that it is critical to use different fonts? Could you perhaps provide some examples of literary works that use this, and explain why you find it better than works that do not? I, for one, cannot think of a single book that uses different fonts for different POVs, and I can think of any number of books that used other tools instead: War and Peace, Les Misérables, Pride and Prejudice, The Lord of the Rings... – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Sep 11 '18 at 21:52
  • Terry Pratchett: Mort – Chris Johnson Sep 11 '18 at 22:17
  • You mean Death talking in ALL CAPS? That's a stylistic choice used to express the inhuman nature of Death's voice. As in "speaking voice". It's quite unrelated to Death's "inner voice" - the way he thinks, his inner monologue, the way he sees the world. In fact, I do not recall a single passage in that book that's told from Death's POV. This as opposed to Reaper Man, which is told (entirely) from Death's POV, and is not written in ALL CAPS. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Sep 11 '18 at 22:41
  • And I would draw your attention to the fact that Death is a special case within the Dsicworld universe. It's not that every single character gets their own font when they speak. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Sep 11 '18 at 22:44
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    I'll agree. There are some special cases where characters use different font styles - italics for inner monologues and telepathic conversations and emphasis, boldface for really heavy emphasis (Kate Daniels series), but it is actually inadvisable to keep changing font styles. That tends to confuse and irritate the reader – Bumble Bee Sep 15 '18 at 14:30

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