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.

Writing Prompt Wednesday: Wedding Bells

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The preacher stood before him, Bible open, and head bowed over the text. A woman he didn’t recall ever meeting stood next to him and her Pa stood behind them, a shotgun levered into Bo’s backside. Bo wasn’t exactly sure how he’d gotten into this mess, but…

 

The idea of a shotgun wedding is fun, don’t you think? Have some fun with it and share your ideas. Not sure where to begin? Check out What is GMC?, An In-depth Look at Character Goals, and Character Motivation – Answering Why.

 

Happy writing!

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Character Motivation – Answering Why

Last week we took an In-depth Look at Character Goals. This week we will examine the why of external and internal goals. At the end of the post you will find application questions to guide you on your way.

 

What is Motivation?

 

Goal and motivation co-exist. You cannot have one without the other. In fact, when defining our goal, motivation is taken into consideration. Motivation is the reason why they take action. It is what drives them.

 

The character wants his goal because of the motivation. It is the why.

 

 

Make It Compelling. Make It Urgent.

 

Motivation is important. It is a major element which helps us to empathize or connect with the character. My motto with motivation is “Make it worse.” This adds to the urgency of the goal.

 

The great thing about the fiction world is you can do what ever you want as long as the reader understands the why.

 

Your character has a loan they cannot repay? Make it worse. A bank will repossess your house and the items you own, but what a merciless loan shark would do can be far worse. Imagine how the plot would be different for each of those scenarios. Which story line will be more compelling to read?

 

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Taking Motivation a Step Further

 

Motivation shouldn’t only drive your overarching goal, it should drive your character’s every decision and action.

 

  • Why did honest Joe steal from the bank? Because his family was being held captive and would be killed if he didn’t.

 

  • Why did the rich heiress choose the even richer rogue instead of the man she loved? Because her family was in financial ruin and her little sister would not be able to receive treatment without his infuse of money.

 

Give a reason which will make your characters willing to risk anything and everything to achieve their goal. Give them no other choice. A weak motivation leads to a weak story.

 

One Last Tip

Character motivation needs to match your actual character. Make it possible. Your story can be wildly crazy and believable as long as you have the right motivation.

 

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Would a Union woman cut off her hair, pretend to be a mute boy in a Confederate prisoner camp, and secretly help Confederate men to escape? (If you are a history buff at all, you can imagine the risks that woman is taking. Doing so is completely against her best interest.)

 

If you give her the right motivation, it could be a completely believable story.

 

Application Questions:

  • What is your character’s goal?
  • What is their motivation?
  • How can you make it worse?
  • Is your motivation believable for the character? Would they really make that choice?
  • Do your characters have a purpose that moves them toward their goal for the scene you have created?

 

Share some of your answers in the comments below. I would love to hear your thoughts. Are there any other guiding questions you would add?

 

May God bless your journey to follow “The Write Call”,

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