Lisa O’Donnell On The Importance Of Giving Characters Unique Voices + Authenticity in Dialogue Writing

lisa odonell

Name: Lisa O’Donnell
Author’s Website
Hometown: Rothesay, Isle of Bute
Based In: Scotland.
Education: Diploma in Publishing from The Robert Gordon University, BA Communication and Media Studies Glasgow Caledonian University.
Introduce Yourself: My name is Lisa O’Donnell. I have two gorgeous children. Max and Christie. They’re my world and I write books to impress them.
Favorite Read: Last year I read a great book called These Things Happen by Richard Kramer. I highly recommend it. I also loved Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice Cream Float Before She Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson. Both books are coming of age tales and written with strong insightful voices. I love these authors.
Author Crush: Kerry Hudson’s Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice Cream Float Before She Stole My Ma. This author is going to do great things. I’m sure of it.
Pet Peeves: Those people who say things like “Look, I’m just someone who says what they think, okay?” like it’s a virtue. I mean seriously. Who wants to know everything a person thinks. Sometimes it’s best to keep your thoughts in your head.
Fiction How-To-Book You’d Recommend: I haven’t read any. I should though. Do you recommend any?
If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…miserable.
What You Have Lined Up Next: Top secret.

How did you celebrate the announcement that you were the Regional winner of The Commonwealth Book Prize 2013?

A trip to Paris with my children.

Do you remember where you were when you heard the news?

I was in LA at the time and it was very early in the morning and I remember pulling away from my desk in shock and forgive my French but my actual words were “No f*cking way”.

Which was the most emotionally draining in terms of the writing…The Death of Bees or Closed Doors?

The ability to empathize is vital in a writer and it’s important you’re willing to get into the head of the story you’re telling. I mean it’s your story and if you’re not willing to feel it then who’s going to be willing to read it. If you want your reader to be scared then you better be willing to terrify yourself. If you want you’re reader to feel pain then you better be willing to feel it with them.

Do you give your books their titles while you’re writing them?

I do, but then I always change the names in the end. Closed Doors was called In the Flesh when I started out, but it sounded too sinister. The Death of Bees was called Marnie but then I decided to tell the story from three different POV’s and couldn’t do that anymore and so I came up with The Death of Bees.

When it comes to characterization…when you were writing The Death of Bees and you had two create these two characters Marnie and Nelly, who were fifteen and twelve respectively, did you struggle at all in creating a unique voice for each of them…especially considering that they ere only three years apart?

It’s always important to give your characters unique voices or run the risk of having them sound like one another. They both going through the same thing remember, so it was vital the reader experienced them in different ways. It was very challenging in the beginning, but it came down to dialogue for me in the end and of course the actions and details of the characters themselves. I created Nelly, an eccentric girl with Asperger’s and gave her very specific peculiarities. Having the girls describe each other with their own unique voice also helped characterize and illuminate the differences in each girl while at the same time spoke volumes about the kind of character they themselves were.

You’ve said that dialogue is your greatest asset as an author. How can new authors give authenticity to their dialogue writing?

Dialogue is everything for me. It really helps me differentiate between each character I create. It also adds authenticity to the piece. If the reader can’t hear the characters, then they can’t know them or the world they come from. I’m a great listener, ironically I’m also hard of hearing and so maybe I pay attention more as a result to the idiosyncrasies in people. I don’t know. Perhaps, as an exercise for the writer, if you took three people you know personally for example and have them all say the same thing in your little notepad, what would make them each of them different from the other? That’s down to the details you include obviously and of course how the character says a thing or presents information to the reader. It’s all in the detail at the end of the day and that’s down to the writer.
lisa o'donnell book cover

What are some of the things you wished you had known before you became a published author?

I started of in life doing a publishing degree. I wish I’d paid more attention in my copy editing classes. My grammar is awful.

Do you have to be completely alone to be able to write?

No, I can write with all kinds of distractions. I have two kids. Ideally I’d be in a quiet room, but if it’s not quiet then I can still muddle through.

Can you recall what sparked you to write Closed Doors?

A Blondie song called “In the Flesh”. It’s very fifties sounding and it made me think of a woman dancing alone in a room being watched by a little boy. I liked the idea of writing a little boy in a coming of age tale and before I knew it I had created Michael approaching adolescence in the 80’s. I set the novel in my hometown because it’s a small place and I needed a close environment to tell what is a Universal tale. It’s about a rape that take place on an Island and a crime Michael has to keep a secret.

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