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Letting Characters Speak

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Imagine a scene in a book in which an inspector asks three different characters the same question: “Were you there last night?”

As authors, our job is to make each character’s voice distinctive enough that adding “Jose said” or “Jae Lin replied” becomes all but redundant. Not just with words that reflect our characters’ personalities, education levels, ages, and regions, but with, to name a very few, some of their preferred clich├ęs, consistent emotional timbres, and verbal rhythms. 

I’m still, ahem, attempting to hone this authorial skill. I’m currently reading a book by an author who plumps out all his characters and manages, despite juggling a half-dozen protagonists, antagonists, and bit players, to give each one a rich enough personality to render them technicolor, relatable human beings. Damn him. 

Not for the first time, it occurs to me to create a kind of character bank in which I list not only the usual traits like appearance and background but also some verbal quirks: overused t…

Becoming "Famus"

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I wrote my first novel at age thirteen. Afterward, poring over my 400-plus-pages of loose leaf and notebook scribblings, I just knew a literary star had ignited its nuclear engines.

The only question, of course, was which nom de plume to adopt.

In true teenaged fashion, I devoted days to this Very Serious Investment in My Future™. I consulted the local library, super-supportive junior high besties, and at least 2/3 of my sisters before finally landing on a surefire formula.

My first two legal initials are “L. J.”* World weary, thirteen-year-old me apparently knew far too well the patriarchal lay of the land, because I felt certain obscuring my sex would lead to better sales. Obviously, I should outsmart this gender-unequal system by switching my first two initials, from “L. J.” to “J. L.” Ha ha! Take that, sexists!

But, what to do for a last name? Worry not, friends! (Then-)Ultra-Christian, nascent-feminist, barely-teenaged Elle simply cobbled together a portmanteau from the two mostimpor…