When agents go through the slush pile, they look primarily at the voice. If the voice is weak, they will reject your manuscript.
A weak voice means that your character’s voice does not stand out enough to capture the interest of the reader.
So, what makes a character’s voice strong and different from the voice of other characters?
Here are some tips to give your character personality:
- Show the character’s deepest thoughts. The reader needs to know how your character thinks in order to emphasize with him. Show what the character fears the most or what his innermost desires are. Take risks. Go wild. Everyone has secrets they do not want to come up at the surface. Your character needs to have this secret tucked inside himself that influences his inner thougths and threatens to come out. Think about the Christian hero who watches porno in "Fireproof" or the heroine who dreams of killing her husband in "I Love You to Death."
- Get into your character’s head (thoughts, feelings, emotions) every time a reaction is expected, so that the reader does not see the action through his own eyes, but really through the eyes of the character. Filter everything through the eyes of your character.
- Use a specific language for this character. Maybe he uses a lot of slang words or likes to use a flourish of words or does not finish his sentences. Maybe your character never uses contractions or he clears his throat before talking. Maybe your character is cynical or lay back and it shows in what he says, the way he says it and his behavior.
- Make the character’s personality come through, especially his flaws. Maybe your character tends to get angry easily or tends to find excuses for everybody’s actions except his. Maybe he is a player so his actions contradict his thoughts.
- Think about habits your character might have, some more pleasant than others. Maybe your character likes to throw his dirty socks all over his room or never washes the dishes or flosses his teeth repeatedly or always wears her skirts too short and needs to pull them over her butt all the time.
- Choose strong character traits for your character and make sure your character has contradictions or have flaws that create conflict. He might be extremely jealous, but acts as of he weren't. Maybe he very nice to his family members, but ruthless with others. However, do not make your character too quirky or grotesque unless you want to write a satire.
- You need to put your character in a situation where he has to make a decision, where his world is shaken, where he is stressed, where there is a conflict and a disaster in the making in order to show how your character will react and show his true colors.
- Make your character active, not passive. Let him make his own decisions and put himself in embarrassing situations. The reader wants to know how he is going to react to unusual situations. Do not let anyone dictate his behavior, not people, not events.
WRONG: Paul sat on a chair near his friends and sighed. Finally, they had made it home. (In this version, we learn close to nothing about the character and it is quite boring. We cannot sympathize with him and no emotion stirs in us)
RIGHT: Paul slumped in a chair and a smile crept on his face. Jeannie and Harry looked at him and he slammed his hands on their backs. Home, sweet home. There was nowhere better than home.
(In this version, we learn about Paul’s personality, the way he treats his friends and how close he is to them and we have a glimpse of his thoughts and what makes him feel secure and happy: home and good company. We can certainly empathize with this.)