Saturday, August 27, 2011

Character Voice

The other day I was talking to my wonderful critique partner Valentina about character voice. She’s writing a really good story that I’m critiquing, and she asked me if I ever had a hard time with character voice. Luckily, so far, I haven’t. But before I jump ahead of myself, what is character voice? Quite simple, it’s how a character talks, their voice. What goes hand in hand with that is their mannerism, their opinions, their tone, and so forth. That’s what make a memorable character. But you have to craft the character in order to find their voice.

How do you craft your characters to find their voice? First, you need to know what kind of character you want to write about: How old are they? What kind of family do they come from? What do they look like? What kind of music do they like? Are they opinionated? Do they cuss? Once you have established that, you need to get inside the character’s head, and know them intimately. You need to become that character.

About a month ago, when I was working on Dark Spirits, I came close to struggling with a character’s voice. I was introducing a new character (Ameerah) into the story, and found myself pausing when Ameerah made an appearance. So I took a step back and visualized how she looked, like what color hair and eyes did she have. And then, I thought about her background and got inside her head. Once I knew I was there, a conversation started with the POV (point of view) character Paige, and Paige’s boyfriend Nathan. To my surprise, Ameerah’s voice and personality came out. That’s one of the coolest parts about writing a story, when a character surprises you. Anyway, Ameerah turned out to be a snarky character, who actually has a good heart, but tends to be revengeful.

Once you have the character’s voice, remember to be consistent with it, as well as their mannerism and quirks that they might have. And make sure each character is different, because if we were all the same in this world, it would be a pretty damn boring world.

I’ll do a couple of examples from my book, Beyond the Eyes, which is a YA (young adult) paranormal book. Here’s an idea of what it’s about: After receiving a cryptic death message about herself from a phantom voice only she can hear, seventeen-year-old Paige Felwitch’s life takes on a Twilight Zonish perplexity that her logical mind can’t solve, changing her forever. I’d love to tell you more about it, but I don’t want to spoil it, just in case in the future you end up reading it, which I hope you do.

Now I’ll write a couple sentences from some of the characters with a description of how they look, so you can get an idea on what I’m talking about and visualize that character.

Paige (five foot three, long, straight dark red hair, and dark-green eyes). Here’s what she says at the beginning of chapter three: My mind was whirling. Big time. I mean, seriously, tonight had to be like the weirdest night of my entire life. Not only did I have an out-of-body experience, but now I knew that was Nathan on the platform.

Nathan (six foot one, dark-blue eyes, short brown hair with blond tips that stood on top of his head in 80s skater fashion) Note: Nathan is very protective over Paige. Here’s what he says on page 233: A blaze of anger whipped across his eyes, and he wiped a hand across his face. "I don’t want you talking to him anymore." A blurry streak went by me, and he paced the room. "I realize you have class together, but it’s obvious he’s fond of you, and to what extent, I don’t know. So I’m asking you not to engage in further conversation with that monster."

Carrie (Five foot five, shoulder length dark hair with dark red tips, and brown eyes. She’s Paige’s best friend) Here’s what she says on page 143: Carrie’s eyes darted between Nathan and Matt, her face wrapped in annoyance. "The two of you need to chill out. I know you don’t like each other, but that doesn’t mean you have to ruin our night"–she pointed to me, and then her–"And if you continue with this macho bullshit, Paige and I will leave."
 
Tree (His real name is Jack, but his friends call him Tree because he’s six foot five and has a bitchin’ Mohawk. He’s Paige’s other best friend). Here’s what he says on page 13: He shook his head while putting on his leather trench coat and scrunched up his face. "I don’t think so. I know Matt is your friend, but I think he’s a douche bag." He paused. "And if he ever hurts Carrie," he added, his face now clouded with anger, "I’ll beat his ass."

So you see how different these characters are? It’s not just how they talk, but it’s their personality as well. I know the above examples may not paint a full picture of each of those characters, you’ll have to read the book to get that and fully connect with them. But I just wanted to give you an idea on how each character has their own voice, personality, mannerism, etc.

But what about creating a character who has an accent? Well, when you do that, you don’t want to bog down each sentence with dialect because it’ll pull the reader out of the story, and you don’t want that. At least, that’s what I‘ve read, but it does make sense. So you use their dialect sparingly, just to remind the reader where the character is from. For example, I have a character by the name of Anwar. He’s a bald African and almost seven feet tall. Here’s an example from page 324: He curled his finger beneath his chin and nodded agreeably. "I can see why he would think dat, but let me indulge you in a few things so you’ll understand why I withheld information from you, and why you’ve been through so much heartache lately."

Anyway, I hope this helps you. I don’t know everything, but that’s how I come up with my character’s voice, and I wanted to share it with you. If I can make your life a lot easier in sharing my writing experiences and what works for me, then cool. And if you ever want to add to it, please do because it’s always good to learn from each other. :)

Apply yourself both now and in the next life. Without effort, you cannot be prosperous. Though the land be good, you cannot have an abundant crop without cultivation.
–Plato

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