Thursday, July 3, 2014
In His Head - Nailing Character Voice
Lisa: I do SO many interviews. Seriously, I'm up to seven for each main character since starting my eighth novel. But they're so great if you do it right. Here's the trick: answer them in first person. It doesn't matter if you're writing in third person or second, dual POV... Just answer in first person in exactly the way you feel like your character would.
"But, Lisa, I don't know how he'd answer. That's the point of me reading this blog post."
Then answer as closely as you can. GUESS what he'd say. Soon it will come to you as more absolute, more concrete than a guessing game. In the end, his voice should roll off your tongue (brain) with no effort at all. The reason I do so many interviews is because I need to know this person's history in order to know how he would talk or think. If he is sixteen years old, I need to know what has happened in those sixteen years in order to get his voice thoroughly in my brain. Nope, it's not a good idea to include all those sixteen years worth of backstory in your novel, but knowing it is going to completely work in your favor as his author. I could include links to interviews, but I don't keep a list. It's too easy to type in "character interview" into your search engine and get them. Plus, different ones each time keeps me on my toes.
Also, this isn't an interview but it's always good to do a Myers & Briggs work-up on your character. Sometimes stuff doesn't always match up to the character you want to have (most of the time it does, though), but it's a very good start and keeps you from grabbing psychologically contradicting character traits.
Dan: Great topic, Lisa! Voice is so important for a new writer. It's what makes your submissions stand out from the rest of the pack, but I agree, it's very hard to define. But there are some mechanics of establishing a character's voice. Does he speak formally, perhaps reflecting class or education level? Is she sincere or sarcastic? I'm a fan of writing short pieces (500 words to a short story) from a character's point of view (first person) to really get into his or her head. Writing character monologues -- ones that won't be used in the main story or book -- is another useful pre-writing exercise, as discussed on this week's Writing Excuses podcast.
Caitlin: I come from the (made up) Gabriel Byrne school of writing. He once said this about acting: "It's when you present yourself as truthfully as you can, in a given situation, that you are being that character. Even though you're being yourself."
It's the opposite of method acting. Instead of taking on another persona, you reach deeper into particular facets of your own persona. So, basically, I already know all of my charecters intimately because, in one way or antoher, they're me.
In terms of getting their voices right, I do something similar to an interview. I free write responses to different prompts. I've found the prompts in The 90-Day Novel to be especially helpful.
In terms of finding/refining my voice in general, I think it helps to closely read other writers who have strong voices. This doesn't have to be fiction. In fact, the writer I'd most like to emulate in terms of diction and tone, Amy Leach, writes essays about nature. While reading, I pay special attention to their word choices and rhythm and think about why I like it. I might even try to write a new sentence that has the same grammatical structure just to get into the right head space.
Karlie: I'm not as heavy on the interviews as I should be, and I'm afraid it shows sometimes. I'm going to print out some good ones and make myself sit down and do them.
I also love doing the prompt responses! That has helped me tremendously - it's a great way to get a handle on the character's personality and reactions, too.
The one that threatens to land me a one-way ticket to the funny farm is also my favorite - actually speaking the character's lines out loud, facial expressions and hand gestures included. I can get a good feel for the emotion that way, and also refine the dialogue.
Excellent post, Lisa!
Writers, what's your plan of attack to nail voice? Readers, have you ever read something that had the voice all wrong? Do you have an idea how writers might improve character dialogue and monologue? Do share!