The Character’s Voice — by Susan Page Davis
Today we welcome author Susan Page Davis as she shares about the character’s voice. Read all the way through, since she’s giving away a free copy of My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains, (US only for print).
One challenge I’ve faced in writing historical novels is making my characters sound appropriate to their time without all sounding alike.
In My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains, my characters are from several different locations and backgrounds.
Carmela speaks proper grammar. Her uncle has schooled her to speak like a lady, in order to gain respect from her audiences. For example, when she tells Freeland, the deputy marshal, about her travels during the Civil War, she says, “By the time we got to St. Louis, travel was becoming difficult. The farther east we went, the more crowded the trains were. Uncle Silas rented a house in Massachusetts, outside of Boston, as a home base, and we lived there off and on throughout the war, traveling for my engagements.”
Her uncle, if anything is even more proper. Asked to help dig a grave in the desert, he says, “I fear my heart wouldn’t stand it.”
The other men surrounding Carmela are less formal. The stagecoach driver, for instance, speaks directly to the point. When asked if an abandoned way station has horses they can swap for their tired team, he says, “Nary a one. This team’s tuckered out. We’re going to water them and give them a half hour of rest, and then we’ll go on. I’m sorry there’s no meal waitin’ for you. Just keep your eyes open, folks. Tom and I think we’re alone here, but we could be wrong.”
Freeland, the hero, speaks properly for the most part, but without pretense. He’s a font of local information and entertains Carmela during their arduous journey with several snippets, including this after they drink from a stream:
“They say once you drink out of the Hassayampa, you can’t tell the truth anymore.” “Does that mean we’re both liars now?” she asked.
“Maybe. It’s because of all the false claims they’ve made—the miners. They’ve sold more worthless claims in this valley than anywhere else on earth, I reckon.”
Dix, the deputy’s prisoner, isn’t particular about his language. After they are robbed, Carmela confronts him as he bends over the unconscious Freeland, and they have this exchange:
“You’ve got two good hands, missy. The deppity’s got the key to this bracelet in his pocket. Get it out now.” His voice was smooth, almost slimy.
She shuddered. “Why should I?”
“Because I can’t do nothin’ chained to him. He’s dead weight.”
Still she hesitated.
He leveled a small pistol at her. “And because I’ll kill you if you don’t. Now, come closer.”
In Prescott, the governor’s wife is more meticulous: “Now, tell us about your adventures,” Mrs. McCormick said. “I’m very curious as to why you are traveling in these parts, Miss Wade.”
Mrs. Finney, who runs a boardinghouse, has a more folksy tone: “One of the gents says he heard you speak your piece once. Not here. In Albuquerque. . .Said he saw you with your uncle, only he thought you looked different.”
Finding the right voice for each character is part of the fun of writing a novel, but it does take thought, and sometimes a bit of research. I hope you enjoy “listening” to all of the voices in My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains.
About Susan: Susan Page Davis is the author of more than seventy published historical romance, mystery, and romantic suspense novels. She’s a winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, the Carol Award, and the Will Rogers Medallion, and a finalist in the WILLA Literary Awards. A Maine native, she has lived in Oregon and now resides in Kentucky. Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com.
Find Susan at:
- Website: susanpagedavis.com
- Twitter: @SusanPageDavis
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/susanpagedavisauthor
Buy My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains at Amazon: http://amzn.to/2lK591K
GIVEAWAY—one copy of My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains (US only for print) — winner will be chosen from a random drawing of all those who leave a comment.
April, 28, 1861– Tucson, New Mexico Territory
“You get out there, and I mean now.” Uncle Silas glared at Carmela, his white eyebrows nearly meeting over his thin nose.
“I don’t think I can do it.” Her voice broke.
“Of course you can. You had it word-perfect last night.”
Her breath came in shallow gasps. She brushed back a strand of hair with a hot, moist hand. Carmela was frightened. Ma and Pa would never have made her do anything like this. But they were gone now, and Uncle Silas was in charge.
She peeked around the doorjamb. The large room was filled with noisy people, all except for the clear space at the front, where she was supposed to go and stand.
“It’s all men,” she choked.
“No, it’s not.”
She peeked again and spotted a few women with their hair piled on top of their heads or hanging down in braids. A few ranchers and merchants had brought their wives, but by far the majority of the people packed in were men.
One woman seated between two men in the front row wore a bright yellow dress with a plunging neckline. The stage driver had told her uncle that Tucson was home to about eight hundred people, and more than half of them were Mexicans. But this territory was part of the United States now, so more and more Americans were moving in. She wondered if every single American in Tucson had turned out for this performance.
“I’ll go out and introduce you again,” Uncle Silas said. “Then you’d better come out.”
His voice menacing voice made Carmela shudder. She supposed she would have to do it. He had said they would earn some money tonight, and that it was a way for her to repay him for coming all the way from Massachusetts to fetch her.
He strode out before the crowd that had jammed into the biggest saloon in Tucson—the largest space they had available indoors.
“Ladies and gents,” he said, holding up a hand. The assembly quieted. “I think you will understand my niece’s reticence. It is only a few weeks since she was rescued from her ordeal among the savages, and she has not met a crowd this large or been expected to tell her story to half so many people.” He always said that, although Carmela knew it was a lie. Her parents had died nearly three years ago.
“I ask you to hold your applause and remain quiet,” Uncle Silas went on, “not only so that you can hear her soft voice, but so that you don’t frighten her. Remember, she is not used to loud noise. After what she went through, yelling and clapping might sound to her like an approaching battle. I have assured her you mean her no harm, so please give her your attention, but restrain your enthusiasm. Without further ado, Miss Carmela Wade.”
She pulled in a deep breath and stepped into the doorway. A smattering of restrained applause greeted her. She walked slowly across to stand beside Uncle Silas. The room grew very quiet. She could hear their breathing. A hundred or more eager faces gazed at her, hungrily taking in every detail of her simple dress, leather leggings, and braided hair, but especially the ugly black and blue designs on her face. She could see pity in their eyes. A few women’s faces convulsed as though the sight of her revolted them.
Uncle Silas put his hand on her back and pressed against the layers of her clothing.
“H-hello,” she said.