Character's Voice


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Thread: Character's Voice

  1. #1
    Member Sir-KP's Avatar
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    Character's Voice

    Since we got a surge in new member lately, perhaps this thread would bring helpful insights for this very crucial part. This thing is probably widely known as well, but not exactly as easy as we thought to put into practice.

    For example, I have a first person story, then I realized my protagonist/narrator speaks not much different from the narrator on my third person story.

    That IS a problem.

    Another thing, I realize in my first person story, the more antagonized the characters, the more they have character's voice. For example: bad guys tend to have unclear speech; a supporting character-turned-bad has stutter problem; main supporting character has tons of profanity; while the protagonist herself is rather normal, nice person-esque, and only speaks profanity necessarily.

    You might think like, "well, they have their own personality." That's right, but when you get lost in untagged dialogs, confused which one spoken by whom, then that IS another problem.


    To lit the discussion:

    - How to define character's voice?

    - How do we make sure readers remember the voices without repeatedly reminding them how they sound like?

    Go on good sirs and ladies. Shed your light. The text box's all yours.

  2. #2
    Member technicalbob's Avatar
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    In most of the books I've read recently, very few characters voices are clearly defined either by accents or mannerisms. Perhaps one or two supporting characters will use words from a specific dialect or be written as someone with an accent would speak.
    Is there a case to say that giving less definition of a voice, but clear details about a character's background, allows the reader to provide their own voice? Would that also make the reader more likely to remember said voice?

    Just a thought.

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  3. #3
    I try to make each of my characters speak differently. Not just swearing vs non-swearing, but vocabulary, diction, accent, and even how they formulate their sentences.
    Think of it like the difference between how Luke talks, and how Yoda talks.

    I like to listen to different people talk because I gain great insight into their conversational tendencies.
    What words and phrases do they use compared to other people?
    Even their swear words are different.
    What is their threshhold for swearing?
    Do they have favorite words they use?
    Does their accent change their cadence?

    One of my sergeants used to mock people by calling them "hero."
    But he did it by pronouncing the word "HeeeRo." Accenting the word so you knew he really didn;t think you were a hero.
    He also called people "Knucklehead...but he pronounced it "Knuckleheeeaaad!"
    I have used him in more than one book.

  4. #4
    I think people sound more alike than different. If I go to a dinner party with millionaires or a club party with laborers, everyone at both just sound like Midwesterners, and the biggest differences come from how familiar people are with one another. Sure, there are differences, but how much gets smoothed out when you cut pleasantries and verbal pauses?

    I’d much rather all the characters sound the same, if the other option is a goofy one and a mean one and an irreverent one and a disinterested one...or worse, the cowboy from Texas and the gangster from Chicago, and the priest from Boston and the tech geek that always uses schrewl words no one knows and blah blah blah.

    if characters have different fears, moral needs, and desires, then they will be wanting to talk about different things. I feel like that should be the core of it.

  5. #5
    Finding a voice for different characters can be made a little easier if one remembers that each of us has more than one voice. We have a different voice (words, tone) that we use with co-workers versus friends or family, spouse, your children, other children or strangers. The same event could happen, yet depending on who you are with or speaking to the voice you use will change.

    We also have an alternate manner of speaking at different times in our life. As a 3 year old, 6 year old, 10, 16, 19, 25, 40, 65. At the various stages how one speaks become tempered by our knowledge and experiences. If you can remember these times it can be drawn on for your writing. This same understanding can be used to create a voice for your characters. At times there will be characters and situations you have no context for. This is where you can do so research into the mindset or make it up since it is fiction and your story. Start with what you know and then branch out.

    You could have each character have their own common phrase, they could have specific words they always use in tense or fun situations, you can have characters speak with certain inflections such as a stammer, use text speech, use nicknames for people. I have also seen where a character is shown to have an accent by having some of their words misspelled to show how it sounds when they say it.

    The key is in the attitude the characters show during their speech and actions. Think of a situation, such as your characters come across a group of merchants being robbed by a gang of bandits. What would each of your characters say to themselves, say to each other, say to the bandits, say to the merchants? If words fail what would they do? If you can think of the response for each character, then you know them well enough and it will come through in your writing.
    K.S. Crooks- Dreamer and Author

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by JohnCalliganWrites View Post
    I think people sound more alike than different. If I go to a dinner party with millionaires or a club party with laborers, everyone at both just sound like Midwesterners, and the biggest differences come from how familiar people are with one another. Sure, there are differences, but how much gets smoothed out when you cut pleasantries and verbal pauses?

    Id much rather all the characters sound the same, if the other option is a goofy one and a mean one and an irreverent one and a disinterested one...or worse, the cowboy from Texas and the gangster from Chicago, and the priest from Boston and the tech geek that always uses schrewl words no one knows and blah blah blah.

    if characters have different fears, moral needs, and desires, then they will be wanting to talk about different things. I feel like that should be the core of it.
    It's true that most people in real life sound the same. But as Ralph brought up, there are real people who have very distinct speech patterns and mannerisms. I had a teacher in high school who had bizarre nicknames for everyone (I was "Schneider"), and a very distinct way of speaking. My younger brother invents slang (i.e. "Asido boss to the bone" = cool), and so does my old friend from high school (one of her insults is "false prophet").

    We remember these patterns and phrases. And we want readers to remember our characters! Many things in writing are exaggerated and adapted from real life (almost all the 'ums' that would be in real speech are removed, for example).

    That said, you make a good point about needlessly exaggerated dialects. The differences between characters don't have to be stereotypical or cartoony.
    "So long is the way to the unknown, long is the way we have come. . ." ~ Turisas, Five Hundred and One

    "[An artist is] an idiot babbling through town. . .crying, 'Dreams, dreams for sale! Two for a kopek, two for a song; if you won't buy them, just take them for free!'" ~ Michael O' Brien,
    Sophia House

    Christ is risen from the dead,
    trampling on Death by death,
    And on those in the tombs,
    lavishing light.



  7. #7
    Member Sir-KP's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArrowInTheBowOfTheLord View Post
    The differences between characters don't have to be stereotypical or cartoony.
    This is good point. Prior to the current version of my writing, I did try to emphasize more of the voices and they became goofy for a rather serious story. So I took it down to make them more natural. My main characters have coherent speech under different attitudes, but it is now another problem I have to tackle.

    Quote Originally Posted by K.S. Crooks View Post
    Think of a situation, such as your characters come across a group of merchants being robbed by a gang of bandits. What would each of your characters say to themselves, say to each other, say to the bandits, say to the merchants? If words fail what would they do? If you can think of the response for each character, then you know them well enough and it will come through in your writing.
    This is a good one.

    I'm able to imagine my main characters distinctively in place of the merchants. I guess my problem is how put them into text.

    I mean they have personalities. I tagged them how they sound like (such as coarse, soft-voiced, etc) and their attitude (brash, calm, etc), but those doesn't really show up in their dialogues, because they're not 'colorful' or 'vibrant' - they don't 'pop' so to speak. lol

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by JohnCalliganWrites View Post
    I think people sound more alike than different. If I go to a dinner party with millionaires or a club party with laborers, everyone at both just sound like Midwesterners, and the biggest differences come from how familiar people are with one another. Sure, there are differences, but how much gets smoothed out when you cut pleasantries and verbal pauses?

    I’d much rather all the characters sound the same, if the other option is a goofy one and a mean one and an irreverent one and a disinterested one...or worse, the cowboy from Texas and the gangster from Chicago, and the priest from Boston and the tech geek that always uses schrewl words no one knows and blah blah blah.

    if characters have different fears, moral needs, and desires, then they will be wanting to talk about different things. I feel like that should be the core of it.

    Even when you have a room full of people who sound culturally the same, they each have different perspectives.
    Ever met someone who tended to hijack the conversation with boorish tales (who mistook your silence for interest)?
    Ever had a friend who always brought up the same stuff, told the same stories?
    How about the crusaders? Those social justice warriors that took offense to everything and wanted to boycott something?
    Or the bad-boy complex. Y'know the ones who want to let you know right away they are a player, a maverick, a bad boy. Usually you can spot those before they even open their mouths.

    Although they may talk with the same accent, their focus is different. They speak from a different place.
    When I write a character I try to think like they would (as opposed to how I would think.)

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph Rotten View Post
    Even when you have a room full of people who sound culturally the same, they each have different perspectives.
    Ever met someone who tended to hijack the conversation with boorish tales (who mistook your silence for interest)?
    Ever had a friend who always brought up the same stuff, told the same stories?
    How about the crusaders? Those social justice warriors that took offense to everything and wanted to boycott something?
    Or the bad-boy complex. Y'know the ones who want to let you know right away they are a player, a maverick, a bad boy. Usually you can spot those before they even open their mouths.

    Although they may talk with the same accent, their focus is different. They speak from a different place.
    When I write a character I try to think like they would (as opposed to how I would think.)
    I agree with you, but my thing is that I think it works better, for me at least, to think of as coming from the character's motivation/fear/desire.

    If I write in my notes: Frank is very concerned with fairness. He is bordering on empathy fatigue, is unaware of his own prejudices (people that remind him of his hometown), and is extremely compassionate toward members of his tribe because he hates injustice and because he is afraid of being attacked without their support.

    Then when I go to write Frank's dialog, it might sound stereotypical, or it might not, and I might have to adjust it to avoid cliche in revision, but at least it is coming from a place of character.

    Or if I write: Sam was never listened too as a child and is insecure people will abandon him, though he is unaware of this fact. He talks a lot in order to make sure that he is seen as clever and full of valuable knowledge. A smarter person could make him useless, so this must not happen. Sam hates anyone who acts cocky, and he double hates anyone that admires a cocky person.

    Then when I write Sam's dialog, he might interrupt a lot. I didn't write in my story bible "have Sam always interrupting," but he might end up doing that anyway.
    Last edited by JohnCalliganWrites; December 16th, 2019 at 04:48 PM.

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