Perils of the Writer: Rooms Full of Echoes

I’ve talked several times in the past that my real gateway into “traditional” fantasy was David Eddings.  One of the complaints laid against him, which is a pretty fair complaint, is that all his characters talk with the same voice, have the same sense of humor.  Certainly this phenomenon increases as you go later in his career.  Books like Regina’s Song or The Redemption of Althalus have a core group of six or so characters who are all, more or less, the same person talking to themselves.

How do you avoid falling into this trap?  How do you give each character a distinctive voice?

Part of how I deal with that is going back to my playwriting and acting roots.  Every character in the scene is going to have a different motivation, a different interpretation of what was going on.  I had to approach writing each character as if a different actor was going to tackle each one.

Now, I’m never one for selecting a specific actor for a character.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  Part of my early process involves coming through headshots to find faces that match the one in my head, give myself a reference.  Never a “famous” actor.  I wouldn’t want to let that infiltrate my process.

Keeping those things in mind keeps the interplay between the characters from being just an echo chamber of my voice bouncing around the room.

How about you?  How do you keep your voices distinctive?


  1. I wrote about this a while ago on my blog. ( ) It’s dreadful to write a huge chunk of prose and then realise you have to do it all over again because your protag sounds exactly like your last one. I tried coming up with solutions to it, but none of them are very seriously considered and it was all just an exercise in frustrated humour until I wrote enough of the new protagonist to get to know her properly.

    1. A lot of my challenges in any first-book-for-a-character is finding the nooks and crannies of the protagonist. One of my yet-unsold manuscripts has a main character I had the hardest time getting my head around. It wasn’t that he was the same as previous ones, it was that he was so unlike them it was challenging to find his drive through the story.

  2. I’ve only read Eddings’ “Belgariad” series, which I believe came early in his career, but I didn’t think the characters sounded all alike. Silk plays tricks, there was a big warrior viking dude, a motherly sorceress named Polgara, etc. Sure, they’re all benign, but it’s sort of refreshing to have a bunch of good guys who never argue amongst themselves. If they all blend together in later books, then … well, I’m glad I haven’t read those later books!

    The main characters in my epic series are pretty well differentiated, but I’ve struggled with the more passive supporting characters. I tend to put all of my focus on the characters that interest me most, so the less interesting (yet still necessary) ones get left in the dust. On edits, I’ve made a conscious effort to differentiate these characters. You’ve beta read some of my novels, so you probably remember Margo, Cherise, and Reanna. I’m going through and “nicening” the character of Margo. Her character is getting a complete overhaul. Reanna is now dying of cancer. Overall, I’m strengthening the differences between these characters, and making that a specific focus in my edits.

    1. The voices are quite unique in Belgariad, true. The thing of all characters sounding alike in Eddings is more in his later works.

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