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Giving your character a voice

 
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TheBritishInvasion



Joined: 23 Mar 2008
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 7:06 am    Post subject: Giving your character a voice Reply with quote

I've written a few books but I've come across a problem that springs up in pretty much every one. All of my characters sound the same.

At one point I even forgot which character's point of view I was writing from and swtiched from one to the other without realising. It doesn't help that my character's personalities are quite similar and I'm willing to change that to a degree but the books won't work it they're too different.

So what I'm trying to say is, how do you make your characters sound individual? This is especially important when it comes to internal monolouges.

I welcome any advice you can give, thanks.
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Tamir



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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 7:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have trouble with this myself, but something I've noticed Stephen King (<3) does is mark something important in a character's mind and have him think in terms of it.

For example, if a character does something in the beginning of the story which has an unfortunate result, he can always compare his actions to it. If someone said something to a character which went deep, he'll think about it a lot, wrestle with it. It can become a sort of mind-catch-phrase. If there's a notable person in his life, he'll compare people to him.

None of this actually makes the characters any more distinct, but it's very good for distinguishing between them and their thoughts regardless.

I think I did a bad job explaining that, and I can recommend only that you pick of one of Stephen King's books. Now I can leave the thread to someone who has some idea what they're talking about.
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Asa



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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 9:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I do know what you're talking about. For me, I don't do a lot of playing with dialects. Sometimes I put in a slur here or there ("Whaddaya mean, doofus? 'm not drunk!") but a lot of my differentiation comes from vocabulary. An enlightened person has a better vocabulary, an evil person is more disdaining. In narration ("WHAT?" she shouted. Mary had never heard of a concept so unfounded. Her? A whore? Indeed!), since I use a third-person omniscient POV most of the time - see the sample above - I can differentiate it by the thought processes of the character. Keeping your characters different also involves making their backstories and reactions different. Put them in the same situation, and write how they would react. Tripping over a log, watching a loved one die, getting an A on a test. That sometimes helps me.

If you're talking about dialects, there's a link over in the WG3 thread that cataloged dialects from all over the world. Or, do a search on phonetics. Or written dialects. Or sound it out in your head what your character should sound like, and write it phonetically. Or give them vocal quirks - does one always end a sentence with "you know what I mean?", or stammer, or start with "Um...", that kind of thing. Doesn't change their personalities, but does set them apart.

Does this help?
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TheBritishInvasion



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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 10:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Those are both very helpful, I think I'll try that excerise about putting them in the same situation and writing how they'd react.

Thanks for the advice, does anybody else have a suggestion?
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unimportant



Joined: 14 Apr 2008
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 11:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

To write engaging fiction, my creative writing teacher told me that characters have to have distinctions, and a few have to be extremely different, or else it'll just get boring. I don't know if I agree with that completely, but he gave me a few good pointers.

1. Give them each a goal or quirk, and figure out how they would acchieve this goal or convey this quirk. How it affects their thoughts, their actions, their energy. Which, conveniently, leads to the second point Wink

2. Energy can be a big deal. A younger character that hasn't been let down much in life, one with optimism and drive is going to sound different from, say, a somewhat older character, or one who's lost a loved one, or dealt with trauma of some kind. The energy behind a character's language will change it accordingly

3. A character's background is a big deal as well. If they've been educated a certain way, raised a certain way, that'll show in how they talk or think. They might talk more cautiously or recklessly depending on how naive they are. They could think fast and miss a lot of obvious details if they've never learned to calm down and organize their head, or they could go through things methodically, and take their time. Stuff like that.

Obviously I'm paraphrasing, he said all this a lot better, and i don't know if my way of putting things is helping at all. But characters are always individuals, if unique voices aren't coming naturally to all of them there might be too many characters, or maybe their goals or life stories could be tweaked a bit to naturally set them apart. I hope I'm not sounding pompous here, and I hope this is all at least moderately helpful! ^^;
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Nem



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PostPosted: Sat Aug 02, 2008 2:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Going back a few years now most of my characters conversations were just written in line with a song or poem. I'd find one that put me in the mind of a certain character and either split it off into lines, which I’d then write between Wink , in the case of a poem or play the song in the background when I was writing for that character.
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thespaceinvader



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PostPosted: Sat Aug 02, 2008 4:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Idiomatic speaking styles are VERY important. Not just the odd verbal quirk, or exclamation, but overall style. Think about your character's background. How old are they? (this one is VERY important. The correct portrayal of age is something difficult to do in language, but when you get it right, it really stands out. Read Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Treaveller's Wife (caution, some fairly adult themes here, not for the young) to see an author do this very well) What is their level of education? What is their social standing? Is the language they are speaking their first language, or is it foreign to them? What is their personality - are they polite, reserved, outgoing, brash, rude, outspoken...?

All of these and more will have a bearing on a character's voice. Take away vocabulary if a character's not that bright, or conversely, not that well educated or well brought up. A less intelligent character will speak in much shorter sentences. He won't use sub clauses or extra conjunctions. He may generalise a lot A more learned character might be more erudite, where a more intelligent but less learned one might speak in complex sentences and of complex concepts whjilst using poor grammar and a limited vocabulary. A very young character will speak with very poor grammar and using lots of run-on sentences and keep adding thisngs onto the end when they think of them and then suddenly stop. A teenager might be a little more flighty than an adult, but a little more abrupt, depending on who they're speaking with.

The interlocutor is very important as well - a character's speech will differ radically depending on whether it's their inner voice or their outer, and who they're speaking to.

This just deal with word use, though. As others have mentioned, the manner of speech, as portrayed by the descriptors of the speech, is also very important in adding to the illusion.

And so forth.
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