“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.)
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.