When creating characters we already know we need to make them memorable, interesting, diverse and avoid those nasty stereotypes.
However, we also need to consider how we create the characters’ voices. We may use words to bring them to life, but those words need to sing with their own unique voices.
Unless your book is a single character story (unlikely), you will have numerous characters parading through your novel and so they need their own voices.
New writers often write their stories with every character sounding the same. This is a simple error and isn’t always noticeable when they are first writing.
As writers, we do tend to paint our novels with our own voice. Everything from your upbringing, your education, the country and culture you were born in, will affect the voices you write.
Why do voices matter?
Firstly, if you want to pull your readers in, they need to connect with these characters. Unless your characters are all clones, they need their own individuality and personality, much of which comes out through their voice.
Secondly, a book where the characters all sound the same can be boring. It can become hard to realise whose speaking and if you have a lot of characters, they can almost start to blur together.
Thirdly, it’s a weakness in your story. A good author will work to make sure their characters have different voices. You want your readers to hear the distinct voices in their heads while they read, this helps to build up the imagery.
The Narrator and the Character
Depending on what you write and who your protagonist is, there may be a big difference between the Narrator (you) and the Character.
If you are writing a YA book and you are not a teenager yourself, then your voice may be different from your protagonist’s. In which case, you will have to make a marked effort to write differently to how you yourself sound.
This does not mean you should litter the book with the newest “trend” of slang you’ve heard teens use. Think deeper. Remember it’s not just about the language we use. It is everything from gestures to thought patterns to reactions.
Also, remember not to stereotype. A teenage girl from America will most likely act differently to a teenage girl in Russia. Also, teenagers from the same country will be different from each other anyway and while there might be some commonalities, you should write with care.
Think about your characters
There is a reason writers create character profiles. One, to help us stay consistent and remember that, for example, Jenny was left-handed in chapter one, so need to make sure to stick with that handedness throughout.
But also, it is to give them deeper levels, full personalities that can colour how they act and how they sound. When you are writing your characters, they will have their own voices.
Think about who they are – their age, the time period they are in, the education level, the culture they grew up in, their class status, their financial situation, their social group.
People see the world differently, they act and react differently because of their upbringings, background and experiences.
Keep things simple
Don’t feel that each character voice has to be so different. Remember you should have built up their appearance and mannerisms, all of this will help to develop their character. The voice is just another aspect.
Maybe they have a lilt in their voice, maybe they use a lot of similies or analogies when they talk, maybe they drift off onto tangents and ramble, maybe they use harsh swear words or never swear.
He said what?
Another good way to catch voice, is to make sure the character is reacting and speaking how they should in situations.
Example: If you have a heavily pious character, have you made them say something out of character when they are angry? Could this be what you might say in that situation, instead of them? Is that how you would react?
You need to catch those moments where you, the author, end up slipping into the cracks.
A Separate Edit
It is recommended to do a separate edit on character dialogue. When your novel is finished run through and take careful note of whose speaking and how that translates.
Does the character’s dialogue, their voice, their reactive tone mirror the character idea you have?
Don’t get carried away
As with any part of writing, you can obsess a little too much. Making sure the character voices are right is important and can really increase your strength as a writer.
But like anything, don’t over do it to the point where it becomes almost comical. Not everyone needs a separate accent, dialect, slang term etc.
If you’re not sure you’ve managed to separate out character voices, then this is a great thing to ask of your alpha or beta readers.
Over to you dear readers, what are your thoughts about creating good character voices? Drop me a comment below!
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