Writing Craft: Character Voice

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of voices in their head, must be an author.”

Okay, so not the most eloquent remastering of the Pride and Prejudice quote, but a truth all the same. Only for authors is it socially acceptable to be insane. If anyone else talked about hearing voices in their head it would be a one-way ticket to the asylum. But voices we hear – the voices of our characters.

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A couple months ago, I talked about developing our “Author Voice”, but sometimes what I find even more challenging is developing unique character voice. Someone once told me that each character must have a voice so unique you can read a line or two without an identifier and still be able to determine whose POV it is or who is talking.

Am I the only one that cringed and wanted to hide their manuscript?

Over the last few months, I have developed a few tricks to help me create these unique voices, especially in my character POVs.

Character Voice Hints

1. When writing in a certain POV, I try to sink into what is called Deep Point of View. Essentially it is writing like the entire scene is happening through the thoughts of the character without actually being thought dialogue. 

Example: 

Instead of: She touched his forehead to check for fever.

Try: Burning heat suffused the air between her palm and his forehead. Oh no. The fever had returned.

 

2. Give certain frames of references to each character. 

Example:

My heroine grew up under the guidance of her military grandfather, who treated her just like a soldier. When writing in her POV, I use military terms, descriptions that line up with military thinking, and actions that reveal her military upbringing.

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“His words cannonballed into the soft soil of her soul, crushing it beneath their weight and force.”

My hero, however, does not have this upbringing, but he is a Secret Service operative. So I have him behave, think, and speak like one.

“Edward beat him to the corner seat that gave a clear view of the room. Only criminals and lawmen worried about protecting their backs while observing others.”

Please note, these are unpolished sentences, but they are just to give you an idea of how to work that in.

 

3. Give them unique phrases and quirks.

Example:

The heroine may say “Oh skunk!” when she is upset, while the hero may rub at a hidden rock in his pocket.

 

4. Take into account their education level.

If the heroine has had a lot of education, then her word choices should reflect it, but if she is a self-taught woman her choices may be different.

Example:

“The sunset is absolutely exquisite tonight.” vs “It sure is a pretty sunset tonight.”

 

5. Consider Dialect

Each region has its own turn of phrase and accents. In July, my family and I went on a mission trip and one of the leaders was from Minnesota. Her “o” sounds were unique as well as her use of “You betcha” and “Oofta sakes.” If your characters are from different regions or ethnic backgrounds, take that into consideration.

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Example:

One of my villain’s henchmen is Irish. I did a little research and made sure I wrote the dialect correctly and even worked in some sayings into the conversation.

“May the cat eat ye, and the devil eat the cat!” (My personal favorite.)

Your Turn

How do you help the voices of your characters to stand out as unique? Are there certain resources you use to help? If you are comfortable, share a couple examples of your character voices.

WCW: Crafting the Perfect Chapter – It’s Elementary, My Dears

*This is an expanded edition of my guest blog post to Southern Writer’s Magazine on December 14, 2016.

Crafting the Perfect Chapter – It’s Elementary, My Dears

 

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Before becoming a stay-at-home-mom, I taught fifth-grade students to analyze writing. I hadn’t given much thought to applying what I taught to my own writing until I substitute taught a fifth-grade reading class. That day, I discovered a crucial concept for every fiction writer.

 

Students all over the country are forced summarize every chapter they read by looking for these key things: Somebody… wants… but… so… then…

 

We, as writers, need to zero in on every chapter we write to make sure we can answer: Somebody… wants…. but…. so… then…

 

How do we do this? It’s elementary, my dears.

 

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To illustrate this concept, I will use chapter eight of George Washington’s Socks.  I will assume most my readers have not had the enjoyment of reading this children’s novel, so I will just give a very brief introduction to the story.

 

George Washington’s Socks

A mysterious rowboat transports five adventurous kids back in time to the eve of the Battle at Trenton where they experience the American Revolution. Through encounters with Hessian soldiers, revolutionaries, and even George Washington himself, Matthew, Quentin, Hooter, Tony, and Katie watch history unfold before their eyes as they see first-hand, the grim realities of war and the cost of freedom.

– Amazon.com Blurb

 

Somebody… wants… but… so… then…

Let’s break it down:

 

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Somebody…

Who is the central focus of this chapter? This can be one or two characters if you are splitting your story between points of view, but even if there are multiple points of view, a chapter is generally about one person. Who would students identify as the main character for your chapter?

In George Washington’s Socks there are five focus characters, however, chapter eight focuses solely on the perspective of Matt.

 

Wants…

This is the goal of the main character for this chapter only. What is it that the character wants to accomplish in this small timeframe? More often than not it is a small goal that builds into something bigger.

 

For Matt, his initial goal in the chapter was to return General Washington’s cape.

 

But…town-sign-1158385_640

No story is engaging without conflict, and neither is a chapter. What obstacle does the character face? It can be internal or external in nature, but it needs to be plausible and, if at all possible, unforeseen.

 

Matt’s challenge comes in the form of a captain who believes Matt is a rebel soldier.

 

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So…

This is the reaction to the conflict. What does the character do? What does he/she think? Do they change their goal? What about the supporting characters? How do they respond to the conflict, and how does their response affect the main character?

 

Matt changes his goal. He goes from wanting to return General Washington’s cape to retreating to the safety of the boat.

 

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 Then…

This is where a consequence occurs or an additional problem is added to the plot. There could be a hint to the subplot, or a difficult obstacle the character must face, or it could leave the reader with a cliffhanger. Whichever course you choose, the “then” is used as a hook for the next chapter.

 

Matt’s chapter doesn’t end with him being forced into battle. His “then” is the fatal injury of the only man who can get Matt home.

 

Combine all the elements and you get:

Matt wanted to return General Washington’s cape but a Captain thought he was a rebel soldier trying to desert, so Matt tries to return to the boat. Then, as Matt is being forced into battle, the only man who can get Matt and his friends home suffers a fatal injury.

 

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Somebody… wants… but… so… then… is a quick, easy summary that drives to the heart of a chapter.  Do each of your chapters contain these elements? Could you summarize them in this way?

 

Even scarier…. could a fifth-grader?

 

I challenge you to share one of your chapters in this way, and just so I am being fair, here’s my example from chapter one.

 

Kessara wants to pay off her grandfather’s debt, but she doesn’t want him to find out she had to save the family name again, so she goes to the cemetery at midnight to retrieve her secret stash of money. Then as she is returning to the carriage she stumbles upon a clandestine meeting between two criminals who spot her.

 

What do you think? How would you break down one of your chapters? 

 

Writing Craft Wednesday:Writing in the Male POV – Part 3

I am a woman. I think like a woman. I write like a woman. But what if I want to write like a man? If men are so straightforward and simple, shouldn’t it be easy to write in their point of view? Apparently not.

 

After my first failed attempt, I dove into researching how to write in the male POV. For the last couple weeks, I have shared what I learned about how men talk and how men think.  Today we are wrapping up our study of writing in the male POV with a look at male behavior.

Without further ado…

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Male Behavior

  • Use strong verbs to describe their movement. Guys generally don’t wander and linger. They know where they’re going and they don’t mess around when they get there.
  • When guys hang out together, there is usually an activity involved, whereas women can just get together and chat for the sake of chatting.
  • The male ego can drive a guy to do things that are slightly crazy or a lot crazy.

 

“Almost all guys are defensive all the time. Lots of crossed arms, lots of small head-nods in agreement. Friendly guys will go for the back-slap or hair-ruffle (though ruffling is a bit demeaning, it’s the older-brother-little-brother gesture). With girls, it’s far more awkward. Maybe some casual, testing-the-water touches. Otherwise, guys are typically quite self-conscious around girls.”

– InkandQuills.com

Men…

  • Are action-oriented. They do instead of think about it.
  • Are rarely prepared to wait for any great length of time.
  • Like being in charge (or at least like thinking they’re in charge!)
  • Have better detection of light and have better depth perception.
  • Are really great at faking being strong and tough. They present a confident front.
  • Listen and give advice on how to solve a problem.
  • Rarely admit being wrong.
  • Rarely respond to direct commands unless it’s issued by a boss or other ranking figure.
  • Rarely cry.
  • Rarely have intimate friends. They tend to have a larger circle of ‘casual mates’
  • Look for a physical way to end conflict–the quickest, most direct method you can imagine. Imagine physical contact or using anything blunt, heavy, or sharp

 

If the murderer were right there, then the Manly Guy will not stop to feel sad, he’ll go into Revenge Mode immediately, and nothing will stop him. But if the murderer is far away (the normal case) then the Manly Guy will go through the normal feelings of loss. Then he will map out a plan of action that will take him to the murderer and he will execute vengeance in a Manly Guy way, which will probably involve high explosives or machine guns or hot pokers placed in inconvenient places.

– AdvancedFictionWriting.com

 

Girl/Guy Interaction – According to a Man

Guys always notice girls. In the same way that guysalways notice every threatening-looking guy in a room, or the same way they notice if there’s a television.

The second look–the double-take–that’s the big one. The first look doesn’t count, that’s instinctual. The second look means we’re interested, or at least, willing to double-check.

As a guy, the general rule of thumb is, “Unless you knowotherwise, she’s taken.” To that extent, guys can look at girls, imagine what it might be like with her in a relationship, but then tell themselves a dozen reasons that wouldn’t work.

– InkandQuills.com

 

 

What do you think? Are there things that need to be removed? Need to be added? Comment below and let me know.

Previous posts about Male POV:

Writing Craft Wednesday: Writing in the Male POV – Part 1

Writing Craft Wednesday:Writing in the Male POV – Part 2

Interested in learning more? Check out my favorite articles from my time of research below.

Advanced Fiction Writing – Wrapping Up Those Manly Guy Characters

Advanced Fiction Writing – On Writing Convincing Male Characters

Keri Arthur – Male POV

Ink and Quills – How to Write from a Guys POV

 

Hopefully with the tools in hand that I have discovered, you will be reading about my believable swoon-worthy hero soon.

 

Writing Craft Wednesday:Writing in the Male POV – Part 2

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Thor

 

Two great swoon-worthy heroes, and who doesn’t love a swoon-worthy hero? As a writer, I strive to make my heroes the type that makes you swoon despite their flaws.

 

After learning the devastating truth, that my hero was a girly-man, I sought out to learn how to better craft the male POV in my writing. This sent me on a hunt through dozens of articles written by men, women, published authors, and editors to discover what makes a realistic male POV.

 

Last week I shared what I learned about male dialogue and conversations. Today I am wrapping up with bulleted lists on what I discovered about the male’s inner world.

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The Inner Male

  • Short snippets of inner monologue are best. One or two sentences is a good target.
  • A man always thinks of himself in positive terms, even when he botches things terribly. He will phrase his defeat in terms that make it clear that he was put in an impossible situation or that he was off his game. (Of course, you can still have characters who struggle with self-image, but even then they can still have times of thinking like this.)
  • A man would never describe himself as helpless. EVER. He may be down for a time while he waits for the next opportune moment, but he is not helpless.
  • When a man sets his mind on a target, everything else vanishes from thought until the mission is accomplished.
  • Men aren’t going to agonize over whether or not they should kiss the woman, they do it, then deal with the consequences afterward. Teenage guys might naturally agonize, though.
  • Men are very visual. The way a woman dresses creates visual images a man’s brain that can linger for days, months, or even years.
  • For every problem, there is a solution, but the consequences don’t matter as much as simply solving the issue to begin with. They may just try the direct, brute-force way first.
  • Emotion, except for anger, is usually kept under wraps or repressed altogether.
  • They think about responsibilities, deadlines, family, life, and sometimes there is literally nothing. (Is that seriously possible? I can’t even wrap my head around thinking nothing.)
  • Most guys like to imagine they don’t have feelings. They use the ‘push it deep down’ approach 90% of the time and the remaining 10% of the time, it is bottled up until it eventually bursts.
  • If you push a guy, he’ll get angry; if you break a guy, he’ll cry.
  • Guys understand a woman’s emotions; they just don’t know what to do about it.
  • Most guys only know eleven colors: red, blue, yellow, green, orange, purple, black, brown, gray, white, and pink.
  • Guys do NOT always think about sex. If they do, they are not the type of guy you want being your hero. Real men can and do think about other things.

 

What do you think? Are there any things that could be added to this list? Any things which should be removed? Leave your comments below and come back next week for my final installment with Male Behavior.

Writing Craft Wednesday: Writing in the Male POV – Part 1

 

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“So God created man in His own image;

He created him in the image of God;

He created them male and female.”

– Genesis 1:27

 

And boy did he create the differently. Ever heard of the boosolar-system-566537_640k Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? I personally have never read the book, but I can relate to the feeling that men seem to be from a different planet. (And I am sure there are probably at least a few men who feel the same about women.)

 

One of my favorite things about reading and writing romantic fiction is the perspective of the story from both sexes. Reading it is easy. Writing it? Not so much.

 

In fact, in my first draft of my work in progress, my critique partners gently revealed to me that my hero was a whiny, wimpy, girly-man (my words, not theirs). I may be married to a man, but I certainly couldn’t write or think like a man. Boy, was I thankful to discover that early into my writing!

 

So I set my manuscript aside and decided to dive into the world of male point of view. I looked at suggested articles and sought more out on my own. What I discovered, from both the male and female writers of these articles, was a pattern.

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Men are pretty straightforward creatures with specific tendencies in their speech, inner thoughts, and behavior.

 

Over the next couple weeks, I will give a bulleted list of what I have learned. Keep in mind that these bullets are just patterns that I found. There are always exceptions.

 

Male Dialogue

  • They rarely end sentences with questions or say things like “I’m not sure.”
  • They do not use expressive adjectives (wonderful, gorgeous, etc. unless being sarcastic). Usually, “it’s okay” or “it looks good” are about what you get.
  • They are rarely heard saying “May I? Could I? Should I?”
  • They rarely use words like darling, honey, or sweetheart except during times of intimacy or moment of extreme stress.
  • Make dialogue to the point.

 

Male Conversation

  • Conversations are a means to relay information not build relationships.
  • Conversations are typically on a non-important topic until everything dies away
  • Guy conversations generally involve the least amount of words possible.
  • Generally, guys only have two or three things in common with other – sports, work, music, games, food. Gossip is off the table.
  • If two guys disagree on something, expect some flaring tensions and arguments.
  • Talking with girls varies. Some are very shy, some of full of confidence and swagger. Some try to be amicable and get a laugh out of you whether you’re guy or a girl.
  • If men are embarrassed they usually try to laugh it off.
  • If men are hurt they get quiet and try not to get mad.

 

Men…

  • Prefer direct action to talk.
  • Are problem solvers. They rarely listen without giving advice.
  • Rarely ask for advice.
  • Rarely admit to being wrong and their apologies tend to be gruff and unpolished.
  • Rarely respond to a direct command unless they are outranked.
  • Say what they think. They don’t use euphemisms.
  • Use very black-and-white talk – it is what it is; a spade is a spade.
  • Don’t do small talk.
  • Rarely punctuate speakers with agreeing noises.
  • Mostly repress emotions except anger.
  • Are a lot less likely to share their feelings. Feelings are private, which are none of your business.

 

 

What do you think? Is anything off base? Is there anything you would add? Share it in the comments below and then come back next week when I tackle male thought patterns and behaviors.

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