Monday, November 25, 2013

Ten Writing Tighteners: Voice Not Character Appropriate

Photo by Anirudh Koul

From what I can tell, almost every single editor and/or lit. agent has said, or will say, they're looking for fresh or strong voices in books they choose to champion. Good voice will bridge the gap for the audience to think of characters as real people, at least during the time they're reading. I, like many others, connect to some characters on such a level they almost become as real to me as actual people. 

Voice helps readers connect to characters. 

Some voices stay with me long after the story-line has faded from memory. As discussed several times during the Ten Writing Tighteners Series, it's a writer's job to immerse the reader in the story using certain techniques and avoiding pitfalls. One snag, which pulls me out of a story faster than almost anything else, is if the voice doesn't stay true to the character the author has created.

sophisticated character will not only speak in a manner which portrays this, but they will also think in more refined terms. Country bumpkins will likely use expressions from the region they currently live or places they grew up. Sometimes country of origin can have a huge bearing on the voice of a character. The English employ distinctive colloquialisms and attitudes, where Americans have their own. Characters from California need to be portrayed slightly different than those from Texas.
Photo by perpetualplum

Vocabulary is important to refining a character's voice. People from the UK could use the bollocks where Americans may say nuts or balls. A girl from England would describe having sex as shagging, but one from America might say screwing. Or if the character is unique, they may have their own words. For instance, sometimes I use the word scrogging for sex. I've only ever known a couple of other people who used that word, so it might be useful to set a character apart as quirky.

World view has bearing on character's voices.

What makes up one's world view is determined by many factors. Family dynamics, the way they interact with peers, religion and/or political views, even their physical appearance can affect their world view. It's the author's job to develop their characters fully, even if they never reveal ninety percent of the information to the reader. It helps to have a clear mental picture as to what motivates characters to act in certain ways and think in a particular manner.

Children see and describe the world in completely different terms than adults.

My daughter Alex, 16 months
When the point-of-view character is a child, writers also have to take into account the child's family situation, their family's background, and the child's level of maturity. A four year old would describe things much differently than a twelve year old. Even the difference of a couple of years can be a huge leap in maturation and thought processes in children.

If a character is young, but unusually mature, their voice will be different than an average intelligence character of the same age. However, if the writer goes too far they can make it unbelievable. Take Bella from Twilight as an example. She's a teen, but early in the book Bella remarks that her mom said she was 35 when she was born. So the reader knows she's very mature and smart. When she uses big words and acts more adult-like than your average seventeen year old, it doesn't seem out of place. 

Imagine a teen-aged country boy, with only an eighth-grade education. He's portrayed as illiterate and not particularly bright. The last thing I'd expect him to do is use descriptions more fitting for a middle-aged woman working in the medical field. He wouldn't use a lot of medical jargon or even probably have a vocabulary that included a lot of big words. If an author writes their characters to speak and think as s/he would think and speak, their character's voices aren't going to ring true. 

Here's an example from my book, DEVASTATION. Gabe is a teen boy, who grew up in rural Texas. He works on a ranch. Here is a passage which I think shows his voice without using actual dialogue.
 Photo by Divine Harvester

Need rips through me with a force that might be scary if I didn't already know how connected my heart is to hers. Tied up with wax string, duct tape, and bailing wire. There's no way it'll ever come undone, and I don't want it to.

Gabe uses terms he's familiar with to describe his feelings. H doesn't use flowery words a girl might use, nor are they words of a poet--he's not poet after all. He's just a guy who works on a ranch.

Here's a scene from my newest book, SECRETS I KEEP. Lily is twenty-two and Sophie's eight. Lily's POV is actually in the book, but I've added Sophie's reaction here so you can see the difference in their voices. 

The fridge may as well be the barren tundra of Siberia and the cupboards are in the same sad shape. We’re down to our last three pieces of bread, and not much choice for what to put with them; mustard, crackers, or tartar sauce. Freaking great.

I draw a mustard smiley face on the slices and crumble crackers around the edges for hair. Maybe Sophie will think it’s fun and not realize this is a terrible meal with almost no nutritional value. Her little feet swing over the yellowed linoleum as she sits at our rickety table in the one unbroken chair.

Lily’s talking to herself again. I’m not sure what she’s saying, but her eyebrows are twitchy, which usually means she’s mad. So I sit in the good chair, because she doesn’t like it when I make the broken ones wobble, even though they’re way more fun to sit on. She sets the plate in front of me. Mustard smiley faces with crumbly hair. Ugh. Lily thinks I’m three. Oh well, at least she’s not mad at me. 

Photo by akeg

Rules are made to be broken.

As always, there are times when a writer will employ different tactics to shape a character. Perhaps the point-of-view character's words are a complete departure from his thought patterns. He might speak sweetly to the woman in the wheelchair, while in his mind he curses her for being in his way. The author can use this technique to show a two-faced character. 

Or perhaps an author is showing the prowess of a spy. He might think like a sophisticated businessman, but when he speaks at certain times during the story he uses simple language and perhaps sounds illiterate. This shows the character's ability to pull off working undercover.

My best friend is a kindergarten teacher. She's a different person with her class than she is when she's on vacation with just adults. If I were writing her as character, depending on thr scene she might think curse words and swear in her dialogue. Other times she'd use words and phrases that five-year-olds could relate to. So, it may seem as though the two things can't be intertwined in the same person, but they can. It all depends on how the character has been developed.

What things do you do to ensure your character's voice is being heard loud and clear? Share your techniques in the comments section. 

If you found this post helpful, please share it on Facebook and/or tweet about it on Twitter. I'm trying to grow my readership, so please become a member. There are three post left in the Ten Writing Tighteners SeriesWant to receive them directly to your inbox? Just follow by email. 

Ten Writing Tightener Series includes
1. Filters 10/14/13
2. Dead-weight Words 10/21/13
3. Echoes 10/28/13
4. Sentence Structure Stagnation 11/4/13
5. Redundancy 11/11/13
6. Telling vs. Showing 11/18/13
7. Voice Not Character Appropriate 11/25/13
8. Brevity Blunders 12/09/13
9. Head Hopping 12/16/13
10. Underestimating the Reader 12/23/13

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