Writing Your Character's Voice

How do you make sure your characters don't all sound the same? If you think about it logically, it shouldn't be possible. I mean, we are just one person. There's a name for people with a crowd of voices in their head. How can one person pretend to be several and portray each character realistically?

I've been struggling with this while working on the second novel in my series. In the past, I've made a point not to work backwards but I've broken my own rule when I wrote a scene and realized later the character wouldn't talk like that or she wouldn't act like that.

How do you solve this? I'm reminded of a scene in the Harry Potter series where Harry's scar had hurt and he was thinking of what Ron and Hermione would say if he told them. Think of your characters as your best friends.

You know how your friends would react in any situation. If a transparent figure floats past them, you know if they'd run screaming or chase it. This can get a little tricky if you have a Game of Thrones size cast. I listed all my character's personalities and put them on my wall for easy reference.

If you have a big cast, don't worry too much about voice in the first draft. In my edits, I plan to focus on one character at time. It'll take forever but my novel's worth it.

On the subject of character voices, can a female author convincingly write a book from a male's perspective and vice-versa? Of course. Mary Shelley did it. J.K. Rowling did it. Most of my second novel is from the males' perspective. Come to think of it, not one my female characters are very girly. I'm kind of a tomboy. Been that way since elementary school. I don't think I could write a girly character. Well, I could but she'd annoy me.

Also, can an author write a book from the perspective of a character outside their own race? Yes, but I don't know how often that's done. This one, like writing outside your gender, can go really wrong. With my books, the main characters aren't human so their race isn't determined by skin color. Their complexions range from dark brown to very pale.

I'm not one to stifle creativity. If you have a book in you and the characters aren't your gender or race, go for it. Just don't rely on stereotypes.

Don't take the "write what you know" advice too literally. With the proper amount of research, we can put any type of character in any setting and make the reader believe it- without offending anyone.

Comments

  1. Great advice! Listing the personalities of your characters and putting them your wall sounds very helpful; I might steal that idea. Best of luck with your writing :)

    ~Amelia

    ameliabauer.blogspot.com

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  2. I like this approach. I think if you know the human spirit, regardless of male or female perspective, you can essentially find the voice of any character. It's the human spirit that is the commonality in all of us. Once discovered, you can find the differences easier and hopefully that will come out in your dialogue and action/behavior.

    I'm on the fence about writing from another race. If you actually sit down and have a discussion with someone who has experienced a past of a character you wish to portray, and you take the task seriously, I think it can be done.

    It's almost like a rich person trying to write a story about a poor person. Would they automatically assume that the poor person is unhappy, and will they falsely portray most poor people as being unclean and without pride? When in actuality, a poor person would have nothing to go by in comparison. How are they to know what monetary gains might bring them?

    It's a lot for me to ponder, and I like to ponder. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Auden. Brightens my day. :)

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  3. "Can a female author convincingly write a book from a male's perspective and vice-versa?" If the writer is careful, this should not be a problem. Unfortunately I've seen a lot of male authors create female characters and try to "empower" them by basically stripping away all feminine qualities until for all intents and purposes these characters are boys.

    "Can an author write a book from the perspective of a character outside their own race?" Again, the author needs to be careful. Each character must a fully-fledged, well-developed individual, not a two-dimensional stereotype of a certain ethnicity or a "token minority" just for the sake of "diversity."

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  4. Thank you for your advice and perspective. It is very helpful. I agree with the comments on the human spirit. If we write from a human spirit perspective, I think we would tend to avoid stereotypes. When we write in narrow terms of race or gender, our individual perspectives could get in the way.

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  5. I think fleshing out the personalities of characters is what brings us to getting the character's voices right. It's fatal, on the other hand, to just use a character to parrot your own voice.

    I wrote several characters outside of my own race- Arabic characters qualify, so I was very careful to get the sense of their personalities across as I wrote them.

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