Telling your story in your Character’s voice


His Masters Voice

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I have been reading a lot lately on “Voice“. What do I mean by this? Do I mean the sound that comes out when I use my vocal chords? No, I mean “Voice” in a literal sense. I have also been doing a lot of thinking about my favourite characters in literature. More importantly why are they my favourite characters? What makes a character memorable?

There are many great literary characters out there in the world of words. Why then do a few stand out for each of us? I think the common element of a great memorable character is one that has its own distinctive voice. Yes characters are created in the imagination of a writer but the great character steps out from their creator’s imagination and becomes a living, breathing entity as real as a friend you like to spend time with. So how are these characters able to step out from the imagination and become people. This is due in part to the way the character is written. These are some of the ways that a character gains their own voice.

LISTEN

A writer has to learn to listen to the voice of their character. There will be a voice. It may not be very loud and it may even be a shy voice that takes a while to come through. Sometimes you have to learn to separate a character’s voice from the white noise of the story. Even though as a writer you may have imagined the story, the story will be happening to your character. Don’t they have a say in what happens and how they handle it?

Don’t play Puppet-Master, Cut the Strings

As the creator of the characters in your story it is very tempting to play Puppet-master with your  characters. Don’t let your writing become a mirror for your own life. If you are writing Fiction, remember that you need to stay true to the “fiction” element of your story. As tempting as it may be to stand above the scene and move your character to your own wants and desires resist the temptation. This will only result in a puppet show not a story that learns to live and breathe on its own. So cut the strings. If you find you are controlling your character’s reactions, even dictating their personality, then just STOP. Your story will be better off for it.

Don’t Parent your Characters

Unless you are writing a book about parenting skills, leave the parenting to parents. You are not a parent in your story. What do I mean by this? Don’t tell your character what to do. Sometimes you have to let them figure out things for themselves. Let your character argue with you. This will add another dimension to the character in your mind and if you pay heed to your character, your reader will also play heed to your character.

Let your characters make mistakes

This is a really important point in creating characters that resonate with your readers. Do not make your characters perfect. Make them imperfect and I will go even one step further and ask you to accentuate their flaws and imperfections. Perfection in a character is distancing and boring. We all know those characters that are so perfect and so well-adjusted to anything life throws at them that you just want to slap them. If you accentuate your character’s flaws this can be a growth point in your character’s personality. Your characters are only going to learn how things work if you let them fail.

Give your character a 3D character

Human beings are not all good or all bad. There is a little of everything in a human adult and sometimes even more extremes of emotion in a human child. Give your character a hint of arrogance and entitlement. But give them a fierce loyalty to under-pine the negative aspects. Allow them to have a temper. This is one of the most human of all emotions. Very few people can say they have no temper. If your character comes across as greedy, don’t try to change that.

Don’t protect your character

Throw something difficult their way. Put them in the way of hardship. Put them through trials and tribulations. As attached as you may be to your character, your reader has to believe that they can sympathize with them. Your reader will not sympathize with a character that you protect in a glass bubble from all the bad things in life. Life is not fair and most of the times life is not pretty. Give your character a real world to live in. Make them feel sorrow, feel anger, feel regret, feel vulnerable. It is through the bad that the strength or weakness of your character will shine through. You will make your reader believe that this character is a person, maybe even based on someone they know.

Get your reader into your character’s head

Your reader must be able to walk in your character’s foot-steps to understand your character. But how can your reader do this if you are not doing this. Ask yourself this question: Are you in your character’s head or is your character in your head? If you answered yes to the latter part of the question, then you need to backtrack. You need to get into your character’s head. How do you do this? How do you separate yourself (the writer) from the character? There are a number of ways of doing this. This brings me to the MUSCLES of today’s post and your exercise for the week…

MUSCLES

  • Do a week-long journalling exercise: For 1 week, start a journal in your character’s voice. Do not write what you want to write but write what your character is thinking and feeling.
  • Write a 1 page scene from your story. Now read over this scene. Whose writing the scene? Are you in this scene? Or is this scene one that is happening to your reader? Now go back and re-write this scene but get into the head of your character for the re-write. Now write this scene as it is happening to your character, not to you.
  • Observe your life from your character’s viewpoint. Make your character the narrator for your life this week. Put this into your journal entries.
  • Interview your character. Ask them to tell you where they see their story going. Ask them for their back story. Put your character in the driving seat of their story. Give your character their own voice in your story.
  • Read your favourite book, particularly focusing on the voice of the character that resonates with you. Do you hear the voice or do you hear the author’s voice. Analyse what tools the author uses to make you hear the character’s voice.

Now I leave you with some quotations that relate to finding the Voice of your character:

Listening is very inexpensive; not listening could be very costly!
Tom Brewer

Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”
Stephen R. Covey

“Before I can walk in another person’s shoes, I must first remove my own.”
Brian Tracy

Live out of your imagination instead of out of your memory.”
Les Brown

The more you listen to the voice within you, the better
you will hear what is sounding outside.
Dag Hammarskjold

“You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written.  And then, if it’s going to be too difficult for grown-ups, you write it for children.”  Madeleine L’Engle

“You can’t wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club.”  Jack London

Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.”  E. L. Doctorow

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” Ray Bradbury

Show don’t tell.”  Henry James

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.  No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”  Robert Frost

“Plot springs from character…  I’ve always sort of believed that these people inside me- these characters- know who they are and what they’re about and what happens, and they need me to help get it down on paper because they don’t type.”  Anne Lamott

“Don’t say the old lady screamed- bring her on and let her scream.”  Mark Twain

“A writer should create living people; people, not characters.  A character is a caricature.”
Ernest Hemingway

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”  Roald Dahl

 

© All Rights Reserved Kim Koning.


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11 Comments

  1. Fantastic post, Kim,

    I love the journalling idea.

    Character voice is so important and it seems to be what gets your manuscript noticed by agents and publishers.

    Thanks for all the great tips.

    Dee:)

    • Thanks as ever Dee for your lovely comments! Glad you found it useful! Am heading over to read your Tuesday tips on editing now 🙂

  2. I’ll have to try out some of the muscle work you suggested. I put my story on hold when I wasn’t sure how to move her forward. I think those prompt ideas may help me to get more in tune with her. Thank you!

    • Glad to have helped you get unstuck! 🙂 The interview one works quite well I find to get the Character out of your head and get into her head. 🙂 Good Luck!

  3. So many great tips!

    Saying what your character wants to say is such an important thing for the story.

    Thank you for sharing!

    -MTO

    • Glad you got something out of the post! 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

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