Art of Writing 1: Swapping character voices & publishing paths

How do I change from one character’s voice to another?

There are different ways to do this if, say, you are starting a new section or chapter. Here’s an example of how it is done in a bestseller. It’s from that book I’ve raved about, The Help:

Aibileen: “And I know she ain’t saying what she want a say either and it’s a strange thing happening here cause nobody saying nothing and we still managing to have us a conversation.”

To …

Miss Skeeter: “I drive my mama’s Cadillac fast on the gravel road, headed home.”

Anyone who has read a couple of chapters led by these women’s narrations would instantly pick up who was speaking if I quoted those sentences without any tags.

I be sayin' what me want

Why? Because the use of syntax and diction varies so distinctly, that their styles of narrating is identifiable. Miss Skeeter’s social status impacts on her voice so she doesn’t string together incorrect word formations. Such difference between Aibileen’s voice to Miss Skeeter is “we still managing to have us a conversation”. Miss Skeeter would say, “we [are] still managing to have [ourselves] a conversation.”

Kathryn Stockett also uses headings under new chapters when she rotates between characters. The new chapter alternating from Aibileen to Miss Skeeter would look like this:



This is a good way of indicating to readers that you are changing narrators. However, clear-cut chapter changes aren’t always where swaps occur. Line/Section breaks are other types.

One suggestion I have for both is to ensure the Point of View (POV) character is placed early in the first, or at least, the second sentence.

DO: Rebecca likes character names early on.

DON’T: It was the order that was the most annoying. I mean, the reader doesn’t even know who’s talking. Is it that tall man, that middle-aged mother, or that writer-girl, Rebecca? That’s what annoyed Rebecca the most.

Okay, so that was extreme, but I’m sure all of you have read that type of construction before. When you put your writer’s goggles on, little choices like these are easy to pick up, but have profound effects on reading ease.

Let’s re-cap:

  • DO put the POV character’s name under or above the new chapter heading.
  • DO ensure the POV character appears early in the first sentence.
  • DO use variations between your characters’ syntax and diction to distinguish narrator’s voices.

What are paths to get published?

Anthologies, writing competitions, e-publishing, and blogging are good ways to start your publishing credits. Let’s break that down.

Submitting to anthologies — a number of authors collaborating writing in one book — is a viable option for previously unpublished authors (my first published short story is coming in the form of my TAFE anthology this December). Working with an editor on my story allowed me to see what it was like preparing for publicationNot to mention how damn good it’s going to feel holding a published book in my hands that I feature in.

Writing competitions are other ways to get noticed. It’s not just budding writers that are keen to have their writing published. People in the publishing industry notice too (so no telling tales about how fantastic you are if it isn’t true).

For every twenty pieces you enter, one might be published. This credit on your writing resume can mean that people who publish short story or poetry collections could want your work. It’s also something that’ll catch an agent or publisher’s eye on your query letter. ;)

E-publishing can be the cheapest, most effective way of building your writing career. But if you are worried about publishing an 80,000-word novel for free on Amazon or Smashwords, for example, try one or two of your short stories. People love freebies. This way, you’ve still retained your treasured novel for later — when people are impressed by your writing and word has gone around about you. More on the latter soon.

Letting your readers taste your writing allows them to decide on if they can trust you. Then they might tell their friends that they’ve found an author who has this amazing little story. They might even say that they’re keen to try more of what this author has because, hey!, it’s free and it’s actually really good.

What you publish next (maybe a collection of short stories at the $0.99 threshold so you can earn a bit of dosh) might be an anchor if your first story didn’t win your reader.

Once you feel that you’ve received enough reviews from people that they are asking for more, you might want to try e-publishing your novel or querying traditional publishers.

Reach your audience

But back to blogging. Blogging is almost a must in today’s climate. I know some people will scoff at that claim, but as an unpublished author it’s a free and effective way of forming a target audience and gaining their trust. Regular blogging proves to readers, other published authors, and agents that you have the work ethic, writing talent and audience to be a big hit (and make whomever publishes your work a good fortune).

Involve yourself in discussions with your favourite author or someone you know who’s publishing a book. Don’t use this opportunity to sell yourself, but through helping them or just chatting, you might learn the best publishing tip that money can’t buy — there’s nothing better than advice from someone in your dream position.

A re-cap:

  • Submit your writing to anthologies.
  • Gain attention, and credit, by submitting your writing to competitions.
  • Publish a free piece of your writing on Amazon to gain a following.
  • Create a blog (and other social media accounts) to interest fellow writers, readers and even people in the publishing industry,

Further links:

I hoped this helped! But, please, tell me if there’s something different you’re interested in. I’ll be breaking up these sessions with other types of posts, so you’ll have plenty of time.

Readers, I welcome you to please leave your comments for the next Art of Writing session below. Thank you.

5 thoughts on “Art of Writing 1: Swapping character voices & publishing paths

  1. Pingback: Does Your Dialogue Annoy Readers? 3 Fixit Tips « Thea Atkinson

  2. Pingback: Art of Writing 2: Nail your novel’s first sentence | Novel Girl

  3. Great information!! I always start “novels” yet I change seasons in life and I am no longer interested in writing what I started. I can safely say that I can create an amazing ending and publish on Amazon! Thanks for the info!

  4. Thanks for the information Rebecca. It was very useful.
    New question-
    I have used narration at the beginning of a chapter in some stories. I have been told I shouldn’t start a chapter with narration. Is this true?


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