Really Really Splendid
Three weeks ago I talked about writing from multiple points of view (POVs). I said that one of the ways to make it work is to ensure that the narrators all have unique voices. I promised I'd expand on that and here we are.
If your story is in first person, everything that isn't dialogue spoken by other characters becomes the voice of the narrator. Which is a lot of words. With multiple POVs in first person, this is a crucial aspect of the story. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the voices should be so distinct from each other that readers can "hear" the character say the first few lines and know who's narrating.
So how do you do that? I like to call it "narration quirks" but it's more than that.
First, consider the demographic of your character. Where were they raised? What kind of household did they grow up in? What's their religion? Did they go to public school? How old are they? All these will play into regional slang, jargon, vocabulary, and what topics they are drawn to or avoid.
Then, consider their personality. Is the character shy? Outspoken? Detail-oriented or big picture? What kinds of things do they notice? Are they specific? What about sarcastic? Do they lie frequently or do they always tell the truth no matter how much it hurts? This will help you narrow down the specific phrases your character says and what word choice they use.
Let me give you some examples. As I've mentioned, I have 4 narrators in one of my novels (Evie, James, Juliet, and Megan.) and 1 in the other (Olivia) with a bonus chapter from her brother's POV (Sam). That's six distinct voices.
Olivia notices sound more than anything else, like the pitch and pace of people's voices. She's also very detail-oriented. She wouldn't mention there's a bookshelf in the room; she'd mention that the books are sorted by author's last name.
Her brother, Sam, narrates for one chapter of that novel. It's an intense moment and he uses a lot of short, choppy sentences. He says exactly what's happening and nothing more. There is minimal description and a lot of repetition.
In the other novel, Evie is straightforward and focuses on what happened. James' chapters are equally what happened and what his thoughts are. Megan and Juliet focus on their internal thoughts more than the scene.
Evie and Juliet never swear. Juliet won't even quote someone swearing in her chapters. Evie will. James swears, Megan does on occasion even though she's not supposed to.
Megan is 12, all the other narrators are about 17. Her vocabulary is smaller and her sentences are long and rambling. She says "really really bad" instead of more specific words. Juliet never uses "really" because she loves words like "splendid" or "marvelous."
James is incredibly specific with numbers. Nothing is "a couple minutes ago" it's "three minutes" or "five and a half months." Megan is very vague with numbers. She uses phrases like "a bunch" rather than a number.
James, Juliet, and Sam all love nicknames. Juliet is Jules, Megan is Meg, Olivia is Liv (or Livy to Sam), and James calls Evie "Eves" on occasion, even though Evie is already a nickname. If either of them call a character by their full name, it's important. Evie never uses nicknames unless it's the name that person always goes by (like herself or Sam).
I learned all these quirks over time and they all have a reasoning. Olivia is a musician, so she's tuned into the world more audibly than most people are. Juliet was raised in a very conservative household, so she doesn't swear. James was not. James hates when people think he's stupid, so he's very specific with numbers because it makes him sound smarter.
Their age, household, religion, experience, and personalities all factor into how they talk. A good way to get started with this is to listen to real people. What phrases does your best friend say that's specific to them? Does your family say things other people don't? Notice how people ramble or get to the point, or what they choose to focus on. What topics do they keep coming back to? What words do they prefer?
How do you make your character's voices unique? What "narration quirks" have you noticed in real life?