SECRETS to Creating Distinct Voices for Characters
As a teacher, one of the issues I’ve found that writers struggle with is creating a distinct voice for each of their characters.
A trap that snags some writers is when they make their own voice their characters’. Unless you’re writing an autobiography, each voice for your characters must be distinct.
Voice is more than just what a character says. It also encompasses mannerisms, dress or style, personality, and expressions, hobbies, pets, or activities, environment.
(The photo I used for the header and below, shows a woman and her horse. Take a moment to really study the picture. How would you describe her personality based on what you see?)
How did you develop voice?
- KNOW your characters. Before writing, sit down and get to know as much about your characters as possible.
- Observe other people! Sit in a coffee shop and watch people. If you have a scene in a museum, go to a museum and watch people to see how they interact. Take notes.
- Choose distinct qualities (generous to a fault, boisterous) and mannerisms (walks with a slight limp, chews with her mouth open). Be sure to avoid cliches. For example: He ran his fingers through his hair.
- Make sure you don’t use the same style of voice for each character. For example: Someone from the Texas will say, “y’all.” A New Yorker would not. If you’re writing a forty-year-old attorney, the likelihood of her saying “gotta, shoulda, coulda, woulda” is slim. But a bright teen might say “I gotta get going” in casual conversation. ALWAYS ask yourself if the voice is authentic.
- Don’t make it difficult for the reader. Using vocabulary most people can’t understand doesn’t make you sound intelligent. It means the reader may need a dictionary to get through a paragraph. IF part of your character’s personality is to use words most people don’t, use it sparingly. If there are terms appropriate for her profession, make sure to explain them. You can still write smart, sophisticated and intelligent without alienating your audience.
- Know your audience. Who are you writing for? This impacts voice. If it’s a novel for teens, don’t make them sound like adults. But throwing in “dude” here and there won’t make it a teen voice, either. Examine those mannerisms, dress, personality, expressions, etc.
- Create depth to your characters. Even the most placid person can have a blow up on occasion. This creates interest because it’s “out of character” for your character. Keep this in mind when you write!
In my novel, Secrets, I have four women. Here’s are a few examples of how they’re distinct:
Toni is confronted with the tragic aftermath of a long-ago affair. She is desperate to remain in control of her perfect image. (She’s concerned about her appearance and being attractive. She looks to her husband for approval.)
Stacy is branded a home-wrecker and now turns to another married man for comfort during a chaotic time. (She is boisterous and does things that embarrasses others as well as herself.)
Dorothy is labeled a lesbian and worries how this fake scandal could affect her husband’s career-and his deepening depression. (Dorothy would prefer to keep things low-key and private and she’s protective of her husband.)
Mary Beth is taunted about the abortion she had before she met her husband and her inability to bear his children. (Mary Beth is a religious person from the South. She copes with guilt and wants to please her husband and receive love from him.)
Hopefully, these tips have helped you think about your characters and how to make them distinct. Good luck!