Earlier this week I told some friends that I finally started work on chapter 3 of the cyberpunk novel that might be turning a techno-thriller (more on that development later). I knew it was going to be tricky since not only was the chapter going to be from a POV that I haven’t written from yet, I’m also introducing an important supporting character and the villain. Normally that would be challenging enough, but there were a few more issues that compounded it. The first issue was time.
As I mentioned previously, it’s been almost two years since I wrote the first chapter – where both viewpoint characters are introduced. That meant that it’s been almost two years since I’ve heard his voice. I did reacquaint myself with his character in August when I did all of that outlining, but that’s not the same thing as getting reacquainted with his voice. At least it wasn’t for me. To me, knowing a character and how they view the world and knowing how they speak are two separate things -- the latter being a result of the former. However, until my brain has identified and latched onto that connecting link between the two, I can’t write from that POV.
The second issue is that until I have that instinctual connection with a character, I can’t make the other elements in the chapter as effective as they need to be. In this particular case, introducing two important characters and foreshadowing their roles with subtlety is not going to happen if I’m more focused whether or not the POV character would really say __________ that way or not.
This dilemma caught me off guard. I didn’t have this kind of trouble with my other POV character. After a quick review, I was able to jump right in and go. (Granted, that POV character tends to view everything with a cynical eye so it wasn’t that big of a stretch.) It took me a few days to realize that the real problem wasn’t so much that I didn’t remember how to write from the second character’s POV, it was that I’d forgotten how to make them sound different. Both characters are best friends and have very similar backgrounds: they’re the same ethnicity, went to the same schools, and work in similar fields. By any right, they should sound exactly the same. What made them individuals rather than twins were the deviations in their paths, the little unfortunate happenings that turned one into a cynic and the other into a foil of sorts. Once I had those events and differences in the forefront of my mind, I could finally hear them – both of them. It felt so good to have both of them in my head again. As an added victory bonus, they were having a crucial conversation. It was one that I’d outlined but hadn’t intended to write for a few weeks. Since a conversation was how I had initially cemented their voices in my mind in the first place, and the conversation they were having was one that I needed anyway, it made sense to skip ahead and write it down.
I find it funny that every time I’m having difficulty with a scene or a character, the problem isn’t that they’re not conveying to me what’s going on, the problem is that I’m not listening. I’m not paying attention to what’s most important to the story and/or the character. Knowing that I can always find the solution simply by shifting my focus is very comforting. Especially since the skill transfers well to my personal life.