Monday, May 11, 2015

Guest Blog by Stephanie Saulter - Finding Voices: Defining the Characters in BINARY - May 11, 2015

Please welcome Stephanie Saulter to The Qwillery. Binary, the second novel in the ®evolution series, was published on May 5th in North America.

Finding Voices: Defining the Characters in BINARY

The question of ‘voice’ can be a vexed one for writers. First, you are supposed to find your own – that is, not to simply imitate the style of writers you admire or who are commercially ascendant at the moment, but to develop an approach that is reflective of who you are. The failure to do this causes much angst in the halls of creative-writing academe; ‘They all just sound the same,’ a noted lecturer grumbled to me recently. And the uniqueness – or otherwise – of the narrative voice is only part of the challenge: next comes character. We’ve all no doubt had the experience of having to flip back through several pages to work out who in a conversation is saying what; we can’t tell from the conversation itself because the characters’ voices aren’t individual enough, and what they each bring to the conversation isn’t unique enough, for us to tell them apart.

I knew that making each character distinctive was going be crucial for Binary; it’s a novel with a large cast and multiple, interweaving plotlines that reveal themselves, and are eventually resolved, largely through conversation. That made nailing down precisely how the characters speak and interact – how they communicate – a matter of paramount importance. But it is also a book about the transfer versus the suppression of information; about how knowledge is preserved, or lost. It was important that such a significant thematic element should be reflected throughout, in the voices of the characters as well as in the narrative itself.

In some cases, this meant creating a specific style of speech. Herran is a digital savant to whom binary code is a native language; but the neurological engineering that made this possible has also reduced his facility for normal language as well as his range of emotional expression, leaving him in the neuroatypical state that we would describe as autistic. He can speak only in a limited, somewhat ritualised, highly structured syntax. He has access to vast amounts of information, but cannot communicate it easily; in conversation with his friends Callan and Rhys their easy, intuitive discourse, their abilities to use simile and metaphor to make their points, stand in stark contrast to his curt, literal utterances. Writing Herran involved an almost physiological sense of gear-switching for me: every sentence needed to be pared back to almost nothing, every expression had to be limited to its most basic, black-and-white essence.

Rhys is another character with access to a peculiar type of speech; he and his sister Gwen developed cryptophasia, or ‘twinspeak,’ as toddlers and still use it as a private means of communication. I had to read up on twinspeak, and then work out my own rules for writing an alternate language that would sound like baby-talk to anyone else. It’s no accident that the person besides his sister with whom Rhys begins to develop a close emotional bond is the only other individual who can understand their speech: Callan, the super-linguist and empath. It’s also no accident that Callan’s job is to translate”‘vast amounts of literature, history, journalism” out of dead languages before that knowledge is lost forever. Rhys, desperately hunting for his own lost genetic data, instinctively understands the importance of Callan’s work.

Then there’s Mikal, the giant with weird eyes and weird hands, and a gift for amusing turns of phrase. When I introduced him in Gemsigns I knew right away that someone with such an imposing and frankly scary appearance would have had to mitigate it somehow; and I thought of how often the funniest kid in the class is also the one who’s overweight or clumsy or otherwise stands out from the crowd. Humour and wit are great defenses, and Mikal has them in spades.

It’s also important to remember that people don’t speak in the same way all the time. The relaxed candor of the conversations between friends, or between Mikal and his wife Sharon, isn’t reflected in the style of speech that Sharon employs as a Detective Inspector with the Metropolitan Police. When she’s briefing her boss, or questioning a suspect, Sharon sounds very different. And even easy candor can’t always be trusted; despite the fact that Aryel and Eli are close, he knows that there’s a great deal she doesn’t tell him and that there are hidden depths to every conversation. He’s learned to listen between the lines for what is not being said. Though no one is quite as guarded as their nemesis, Zavcka Klist, whose preference for formal speech is a very definite characteristic. It’s also a distancing mechanism, a way of guarding against intimacy – and it only ever slips when she’s angry. That tells us something about Zavcka too.

If creating this plethora of voices and characters and languages and subtext sounds terribly difficult and complicated, well it is – but no more so than the complex human interactions we engage in and expertly negotiate every day. We all know how our friends and family and work colleagues tend to communicate, and how best to communicate with them in turn. It isn’t that hard once you know someone. Finding the right voice for a character is just another part of finding that character. The more clearly you can hear them, the easier they are to write. And it’s worth the effort, because the language one uses to tell a story is part of the story one is telling. If you are telling a tale about people, those people’s voices should echo in your inner ear. They should joke and confess, scream and sing, whisper and shout. If you can make them live in your head, you can bring them alive on the page; and if you can do that you will have found not only their voices, but your own.

© Stephanie Saulter April 2015

Jo Fletcher Books, May 5, 2015
Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages

Zavcka Klist has reinvented herself: no longer the ruthless gemtech enforcer determined to keep the gems they created enslaved, she's now all about transparency and sharing the fruits of Bel'Natur's research to help gems and norms alike.

Neither Aryel Morningstar nor Dr. Eli Walker are convinced that Klist or Bel'Natur can have changed so dramatically, but the gems have problems that only a gemtech can solve. In exchange for their help, digital savant Herran agrees to work on Klist's latest project: reviving the science that drove mankind to the brink of extinction.

Then confiscated genestock disappears from a secure government facility, and the more DI Varsi investigates, the closer she comes to the dark heart of Bel'Natur and what Zavcka Klist is really after-not to mention the secrets of Aryel Morningstar's own past...

You may read Melanie's review here.

You may read an excerpt from Binary here.

About Stephanie

Born in Jamaica, STEPHANIE SAULTER studied biology at MIT before majoring in English literature and minoring in anthropology. Interested in developing social media for creative collaboration, in 2010 she launched, an interactive website for writing short fiction. She lives in London.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @scriptopus

The Giveaway

What:  One entrant will win a copy of Binary by Stephanie Saulter from Jo Fletcher Books / Quercus USA. US/CANADA ONLY

How:  Log into and follow the directions in the Rafflecopter below.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a US or Canadian mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time May 19, 2015. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Jo Fletcher Books, May 6, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

Starburst magazine raved that Gemsigns, the first novel in a series, is “a fascinating and compelling read, exploring the boundaries of human behavior, religious influences, and the morality of the everyday person. It comes highly recommended.” For years the human race was under attack from a deadly Syndrome, but when a cure was found – in the form of genetically engineered human beings, Gems—the line between survival and ethics was radically altered. Now the Gems are fighting for their freedom, from the oppression of the companies that created them, and against the Norms who see them as slaves. And a conference at which Dr Eli Walker has been commissioned to present his findings on the Gems is the key to that freedom. But with the Gemtech companies fighting to keep the Gems enslaved, and the horrifying godgangs determined to rid the earth of these ‘unholy’ creations, the Gems are up against forces that may just be too powerful to oppose.

You may read Melanie's review here.


  1. I really enjoyed Gemsigns, so I'm sure I'll enjoy Binary. I'm curious what happens next.

  2. Thanks for this great feature and giveaway. Binary sounds intriguing. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  3. These look really intriguing. Thanks for the giveaway.

  4. What an excellent post, and many thanks for writing it!