|Laura Ingalls Wilder, SueBE and SueBE's son. Each has a distinct voice.|
I laughed out loud as I read the e-mail from my sister. Someone had cloned by husband’s e-mail addy and sent her a chatty message. “I knew it wasn’t him unless he’d a personality transplant.” Her clue? Because it included chit chat, the voice was all wrong.
Mom’s, wives and women in general are Miss Marple when it comes to the voice’s of those we know. We can tell when they don’t feel well, have bad news, or are simply repeating what someone else said.
Yet when it comes to our characters, we struggle to find their voices. In part, this is because our characters tend to sound like us. To shake things up, we need to observe how different people say the same thing.
Here are three comments on a manuscript. One from me. One from my husband. One from my son. Can you tell which is which?
- “I’m not sure what you mean here.”
- “You don’t have to listen, but if you want to sell this...”
- ? My husband. Mr. Not-Chatty. Simple and straightforward. If he’s feeling particularly effervescent that day it might be expanded to, “This doesn’t make sense.”
- "I’m not sure what you mean here.” That’s me. I’ve been told that I’m a somewhat aggressive person, I try not to stampede over the top of someone when I comment on their work.
- “You don’t have to listen, but if you want to sell this...” My son. Mr. Self-Confident. He’s especially brassy when he’s commenting on my work for kids. Since he’s my target audience, he fancies himself an expert.
There is a reason that we each sound the way that we do and it all comes down to who we are.
When you’re having troubles finding a character’s voice, think about the people you know. Is there someone who might sound like your character? What makes this person’s voice distinct? Perhaps it is her vocabulary or a pet phrase. It might have something to do with her vocation, education, birth region or favorite hobby. All of these things influence word choice.
Now consider your character. Think about the ways that your character is like this person. Maybe they are both outgoing, smart, or analytic. Now, think about how they are different. Perhaps your character was born in a different time or place. Someone with a third grade education will sound different from someone with a masters even if they are both intelligent and outgoing.
Last but not least, noodle over your character’s story. What does she want to say more than anything else? Spend about five minutes listening to her tell her tale. Then write it down.
If you've listened well, you’ll find yourself hearing your character’s voice like never before.