Finding a character’s voice
Ever watch a thrilling movie, but just can’t get into the actor?
Often times it is because the character doesn’t fully come to life, and that is almost always because of one missing piece: Voice.
Writing for “voice” is something that is learned, honed on the trials of other authors by the books they produced. Reading heavily in my genre helped me hone the voices inside UNDERTOW. My Beta readers were brilliant at catching where a voice shifted or didn’t fit a character. For their help, I am enormously grateful.
I think, oddly enough, I bring my background as a Psych major and a journalist, to my novelistic pursuits. The Psych part of me knows that humans never simply speak with words – our bodies accent what we say and how we say it. Sometimes violently, sometimes softly. We never simply stand like a stone and speak. As writers, the goal should be to portray not just what a character says in words, but what is communicated though a vividness of movement, tempo, and how the phrases are strung together. Do that, and the character crawls his or her way off the page.
Voice can be tough to capture. It helps when writers spend a great deal of time crafting a character first. In some of the books I have read, I quickly become aware that the character, while fun, is just a means to an end. A shell flung in there to move the story along. His voice sounds basically like the other characters, the only difference is what drives him. Often these characters need to be forced into a conflict, and their reactions are more extreme. So, for instance (and I made up this rotten example):
John looked at me, anger in his eyes. “You DIDN’T kiss me goodbye! You don’t love me and I am leaving!”
I tried to stop him, but he stormed out of the house, slamming the door.
That is just plain stupid. You don’t storm out because you didn’t get a kiss – suck it up! And yet I see this in books . . .
I see, so many times, conflict thrown in for the sake of CONFLICT because the characters don’t have enough substance. Look – I don’t know ANYONE who would walk away from someone they love BECAUSE they love them. That makes me NUTS. It is one thing for a character to be DRIVEN AWAY, but to up and leave? Uh . . . no.
Characters who are fully fleshed out, with backgrounds that only the author may know, do not need to be forced into conflict. Characters will naturally come into conflict because life isn’t perfect, but for goodness sake, make it real. And the whole “leaving without telling them” crap – hate that too. If your character is built well, readers will be desperate for more of them and not because you leave them with a cliffhanger. They will want more of them because they have become real people to the reader.
Write vividly. Bring your characters to life, and not just because they are running from flying sharks. Bring them to life because they have a voice, a personality, and a manner that defines them.
If you write YA like me and want to read more vivid voices, I highly recommend the SHADOW AND BONE series by Bardugo, the THRONE OF GLASS series by Maas, and the UNDER THE NEVER SKY series by Rossi. I am also looking forward to reading YA horror story CREED by Leaver and Currie, slated for release this year. I am a wimp, but early reviews tell me the characters inside CREED are vivid, so I will have to sleep with my teddy bear and read it!
A nightlight. I need a nightlight.