Monday, February 20, 2012

Whose Voice?


Firstly, I apologise for the delay in writing this blog. I've had major issues with provision of phone and internet in our new home. Thanks so much for your patience.
When I start a new work of fitction, I always make sure I create my characters as real as I can with dark secrets in their past; dreams and hope for their future; their disappointments in life up until this time and everything in between. I include everything right down to their favourite colour and foods.
One of my current projects is going through a deceased Christian woman's possessions with a view to writing her biography or a story based on her life. I haven't decided which way I'm going to write the story yet. I'm hoping by the time I finish reading through the documents and letters the Lord will point me in the direction he wants me to go.
As I read the letters I'm conscious of the voice of each of the letter writers and how I'm beginning to understand their personalities through the letters. I'm learning about the hopes, dreams and disappointments of the people who have been a part of this woman's life. I'd never thought written correspondence, whether it's letters or emails could be so insightful in getting to know a person and how this can be used to build a character's profile and voice. I've also realised that each of us have our own voice in writing as well as the way we speak.
This exercise adds a different dimension to how I now view my future characters and the voice I will use in the dialogue I will create for them. Think about the characters in your books; are they speaking the dialogue in their own voice or art they using your voice in disguise.
I recently had a reader, who knows me well; say she saw me speaking through one of the characters. 'It sounded just like you,' she said. At first, I smiled at her comment, but the more I thought about it and studied the dialogue in that book, the more I became disappointed I hadn't created the character true to their personality.
Writers put a lot of themselves into their work. I expect that of myself because my readers want to get to know me through my writing. As writers our voices should be in our narrative of the work, but when the character is speaking, it is their words, not ours.
The comment from my reader gave me a lot to consider. From now on I will be revising my dialogue with the view of fine tuning my character's voice. What about you: whose voice is your character using?

16 comments:

  1. Laura, great question! I read my dialogue aloud, which can help me to discern if my characters sound like they have their own unique voice. I hope your phone and internet issues are resolved asap.

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  2. Thanks for that Laura. It's a good question. It's natural I would think for our own voice to come through a character but as you said, important to get that characters voice out instead. I write mainly non fiction so haven't had the problem yet. But will certainly think about it when I do work on my first novel one day.
    Blessings,
    Anusha

    PS I was sorry to hear about your Internet problems. I hate it when my Internet is down so do sympathise! Hope all is sorted out now.

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  3. This is a conundrum. In addition to the character issues listed above, I also note down speech traits for each of my main characters; eg, catchphrases/words, correctness, use of similes, politeness, etc. I revise these whenever embarking on a scene involving that character's dialogue.

    I'm pretty sure that I'm ALL of the characters I write—including those at loggerheads with one another! While they're all aspects of me, I hope they're different enough to seem distinct.

    I read a good book about how to write characters with various forms of mental illness (psychopaths, etc). This is an excellent challenge (unless you're a psychopath, etc).

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  4. Reading the dialogue aloud is a great tip, Narelle. I will try to do that in the future. My phone and internet are going to be an issue for a while. Apparently, I will need to install an antennae on my roof. See my blog on my website today where I talk about this in depth. Blessings.

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  5. Anusha, thanks for your concerns and empathy re the phone and internet. It will work out, just a matter of time. I always enjoy a challenge, it keeps me on my toes. :)

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  6. Peter, I like the way you said you also make use of speech traits. This is something I don't include in my biography that I may borrow from you. Thank you. :) To be consistent with that throughout the work brings the characters to life even more. You have intrigued me with the book you read about writing characters with various mental illnesses. Blessings.

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  7. Laura, here are the traits in the 'speech' part of the character profiles I use: pitch; volume; language and vocab; rhythm (eg, sentence length, run-on sentences, incomplete sentences, drops words, trails off); catch-phrases/words/sounds/slang/jargon/profanities/blasphemies/sensory tags/agreement/disagreement;
    use of hyperbole, analogy, simile, understatement, clichés, malapropisms, grammatical errors;
    verbose/concise; rambles or gets to the point; polite/rude; attitude to gossip; discreet/not; speaks about or hides private life, feelings; laughter.

    The book I referred to is Rachel Ballon, 'Breathing Life Into Your Characters', Writers Digest, Cincinnati, 2003.

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  8. Peter, thanks so much for that information. so much to get my teeth into as I research my new project. I'm thinking it's a fine balance to make sure we get the contemporary stuff right so that our books can span generations. I will try to get a copy of Rachel's book, too. Sounds like a great resource. Thanks again. :)

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  9. Oh yes, Laura, our stories really ring true when we labour over our character's voice. I had fun with a really 'iggerant' character who always 'arksed' questions. My male main character always poses a challenge, though. I usually ask advice from male colleagues(similar to whom I'm characterising ??)about how they might say a certain thing. And my DH and son help there too.

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    1. Your 'íggerant' character who 'arksed' questions, sounds like a fun character. Yes, I use my DH and son to help me with the male voice, too.

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  10. Great post to get us thinking about character and voice - thanks Laura.
    I agree with Peter - that all characters are something of ourselves, but they do need to be themselves also. If I find myself wondering how my character would say something that is usually the tip off that I have not really created my character deep enough and am just riding along with puppets telling a story.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Penny. getting deep enough with our characters can be tricky.

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    2. Hi Laura,
      Yes, I have had similar things said to me at times. I've often thought I'd like to have a real spontaneously eccentric,'random' type of character in one of my books, but as I'm nothing like that, I think it would be a tremendous challenge to create one.
      Thanks for these thoughts about voice.

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    3. Hi Paula, the important thing, I believe, is to take the challenge to step out of ourselves to create the new and eccentric. Good luck!

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  11. Good question. I think there are times certain characters speak like me - maybe it's because I share the same catchphrases with them (NQ lingo). But on the whole I really don't like to consciously put characteristics of people I know into my characters - and that would include myself.

    It is a hard one, though because there’s potentially a little bit of you in every character you write. I’ll have to think about it some more, Laura. xo

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  12. Thanks for stopping by, Rose. I'm still thinking about it all, too. Peter's comments above are really worth noting, too. Blessings.

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