Giving Characters a Voice by S. A. Bolich – Guest Blog and Giveaway

NBTM_TourBanner_InHeavensShadow copy

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. The author will be awarding $15 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Giving Characters a Voice
S. A. Bolich

One of the things I love most about really good characters is that they start talking to us on page one. You can tell from the get go if the setting is modern or historical, ghetto or suburbia, high society or stable yard, by the words the author uses to show things from the character’s perspective. And how they say it tells you whether the character is sassy or timid, arrogant or shy, educated or streetwise. One of the things I love most about starting a new story is listening to the character talk to me (beware, this writer does hear voices!). Because I almost never go into a project knowing what it will be about, the first few sentences will be a surprise, but also the key to the tone and voice of the rest of the piece.

Here is the process that brought In Heaven’s Shadow alive on the page for me. When I started the book, I didn’t know it would be about the Civil War, or that the main character is a hillwoman transplanted to the lowlands, or that she is magical. But I knew by the fourth sentence in the original draft that there is something strange about this woman watching the sun set:

Lilith wished she could catch that pretty purple into her garden: it might shame the lilacs into better form, but she had never quite figured out how to beguile those colors out of the sky.

There’s a slightly old-fashioned feel to that sentence, which told me I was about to call upon my history degree again. By the time I got to this paragraph, still on page one, I was beginning to sink into Lilith’s voice and phrasing, and I had begun to know a lot about her and Joab and her neighbors:

She would have known Joab was dead just from the sight of the Reverend Fisk coming anywhere near her house, looming like a black scarecrow over Martha Fox waddling beside him. Little Hetty Gallagher and her husband’s pa stumped along behind, their shoulders hunched like somebody had dumped the world on them. But Lilith didn’t need all that because Joab himself was striding along right behind them, and he’d have never been content to trudge along in the rear if he was alive. No, he’d have run right up the road and splashed through the creek without bothering with the bridge, snatched her up and whirled her around and forget good sense.

At this point I knew it was a ghost story. I then consciously decided Joab died at Gettysburg. The rest flowed on from there, in Lilith’s very strong and often whimsical voice. I loved it when she confided things like this:

Lilith stifled a laugh. Pa used to disappear for days and come back with a fistful of money he said just naturally ran away from its owners. Knowing Pa, that might have been so, but she had found a deck of cards in his coat pocket one time, so she reckoned that money might have had a little help immigrating. Since Pa was no hand at farming or carpentry or most anything but making elixir and talking to deer, he had to earn a living somehow.

There’s a pretty fine line between catching a strong voice and stopping the reader cold with dialect. I took the middle road. Lilith’s backwoods Virginia dialect comes through in the dialog, and her phrasing and speech quirks shape the narrative. It sounds like her telling the story, giving her a strong voice without actually burying the poor reader in variant spellings like “cain’t” for “can’t” and “thar” for “there” or dropping all the ending “g’s” from verbs:

His voice was still the rich, warm tenor that had sung so sweet on Sundays and caressed her ear on so many nights up in that feather bed in the loft. That voice had captured her from the first time he’d smiled at an old maid too shy to poke her nose out of Pa’s cabin and said so low and quiet, “Hey there, Miss Lilith, I’m a’goin’ to come courtin’ you iffen you don’t mind.”

Oh, yes, she’d been a goner from that second on.

All writing is a process of discovery, of digging the story out of the blank page. I loved uncovering these characters and their voices. I hope you do, too.

MediaKit_BookCover_InHeavensShadowLilith Stark knows from experience that dead doesn’t necessarily mean gone. Gettysburg took Joab’s life, but her husband struck a bargain with Heaven to come home instead. She’s not about to turn away whatever the Yankees have left to her of their all-too-brief marriage. But when she inadvertently lets slip to the neighbors that not only Joab has come home, but one of the neighbor boys as well, she ignites a town already rubbed raw by the endless sorrows of civil war. Joab’s insistence on trying to “do” for her as though he were still alive, and Lilith’s happy penchant for creating unexpected rainbows, only make things worse. A private little war between Lilith and the unrelentingly proper Reverend Fisk leads to a very public confrontation in which Lilith will either get the town to accept her–magic, ghosts, and all–or find herself locked away as a madwoman, deprived of everything that makes her life worthwhile.

Enjoy an excerpt:

She turned to where Joab stood looking so hangdog. “A week! It took you long enough to get home, Joab Stark.” She tried to make a joke out of it, but she heard a quiver in her voice and knew he would too.

He came up the steps, a long, tall ghost with broad shoulders and a face that still looked readier to laugh than frown, with the same short beard and the same unruly lock of brown hair falling over his right eye that he always had. He stopped in front of her, looking down with such regret in his face that Lilith caught her breath in dismay and reached to hold him.

He backed away. “No,” he said, very low. His voice was still the rich, warm tenor that had sung so sweet on Sundays and caressed her ear on so many nights up in that feather bed in the loft. That voice had captured her from the first time he’d smiled at an old maid too shy to poke her nose out of Pa’s cabin and said so low and quiet, “Hey there, Miss Lilith, I’m a’goin’ to come courtin’ you iffen you don’t mind.”

Oh, yes, she’d been a goner from that second on.

She stood very still, looking up at him. Folks expected ha’nts to be pale, wispy things, but Joab looked almost solid, full of colors, and only a little washy-looking. He shone faintly in the gloom, his face clear to her eyes.

“Why can’t I touch you?” she asked, aching with the wanting.

“Reckon you could if you tried, but I ain’t ready.”

“Why’d you come home, then?”

He smiled that crooked smile. “Guess I just ain’t got sense enough to go on to Heaven.” The smile faltered. “This is Heaven, Lil. Right here. I don’t want no other.”

About the Author:MediaKit_AuthorPhoto_InHeavensShadowS. A. Bolich’s books often open quietly—but don’t be fooled. By page 10 you may be hooked so thoroughly you’ll forget to get off at your bus stop. Her worlds are lived-in, magical, sometimes mind-bendingly exotic, always historically accurate, and inhabited by people who reach out and grab us by the throat and make us care about their problems. An historian, former military intelligence officer, and lifelong horsewoman, she brings a deep love of wild places and a degree in history to her work, creating enchanting and believable worlds with a sideways slant on reality. She writes everything from “straight” and alternate history to fantasy and science fiction, filled with characters who remain in your heart long after the book is closed. She is also an accomplished rider who helps aspiring writers get their fictional equines right through her “Horses in Fiction” series on her blog. Learn more and find the complete list of her works at

Website | Blog | Facebook | Facebook Author Page | Twitter | Amazon Author Page | Barnes and Noble Author Page

Buy the book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Thank you for hosting

  2. Thanks for giveaway,

  3. Thanks for hosting me today!

  4. Thank you for the excerpt.

  5. Patrick Siu says:

    I have enjoyed learning about the book. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Great post! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. I enjoyed the guest post, thatnk you!

    • I’m glad! It was interesting going back and seeing how the character developed so organically. Even I never know where the story is going to go or what is driving the action until it appears on the page.

  8. If you were an animal in a zoo, what would you be?

  9. I enjoyed the entire post today, Thank you so much!

Speak Your Mind