I wish I was heading to the beach with Laura Logan’s fun characters.
One of the things an author tries to accomplish in their books is to write characters with unique voices. The ultimate would be to be able to pluck out a piece of dialog from a novel without the tags and be able to know who was talking.
So what can you do to work towards that goal? Below are some ideas:
- Character work sheets. This is where you write down everything about each character in your book. Everything you do in this area will help you develop your character’s voice. Knowing the character’s gender, age, education, occupation, geography, time lived, we help you sculpt what and how they talk. Here are some things to think about while working on this:
Character Tics: Facial expressions, favorite curse words and physical gestures as idioms. Things like Spock’s “Fascinating” eyebrow-raise, the wide eyes of surprise, the “these people are crazy” eye-roll, the furrowed brow of anger, the other kind of furrowed brow of concentration, and the lip-curl of disgust.
Food Fetish: Does your character obsess about a certain food?
Verbal Tic: This can be a word, sound, or phrase that shows up in various places in a character’s dialogue.
Catch Phrase: It should be always the same and be repeated multiple times.
Phobia: Fear of blood, snakes, spiders, heights, germs, needles, etc.
Collector: Can you give a character something to collect? The possibilities are almost endless: Normal things like movies, stamps, baby animals figurines, bottle caps, books, action figures, Legos, or it could be something bizarre maybe a collection of various types of toenails.
Angst: Divorce, death of a parent or sibling, bereavement, illness, poverty, parental favoritism, losing a boyfriend or girlfriend, jealousy, embarrassment, etc.
Back Story: A good writer has a strong sense of each character’s back story, as it gives the character or characters texture and shadings and keeps them from being two-dimensional. It provides an excellent source to give the reader new information which had been withheld to create suspense. You can reveal bits and pieces as the story goes along as to why your character resents another character or why he suffers from bad dreams, etc. It should always be relevant to the plot.
- Pick an actor or someone you know who has a distinct voice. Hang up their picture, buy an tape of the movie where you appreciated their voice. Listen to it. Make notes. Look through magazines to find a picture of someone who looks like your character. Stick it up next to your character’s name. Scrivener does a good job letting you do this and keep organized. Write down words that person would say to remind you.
- Talk to someone of the same as your character. This will help clarify how they think and feel.
- Try to get someone with similar age, gender, social environment and background to read your book. They will find things that other writers will not notice. Example: A boy would use shirt vs. a girl might say, blouse. Those tiny words can make a big difference.
- Take two of your characters and have them view the same scene and write it. How would they express what they see? Since they are different, they would use different words, thus different voices.
- Throw a character into a risky scene what do they feel – fear, rage, etc. Push your character to his limit, you will them more clearly.
When you finish your first draft, go through and look for similes and metaphors. Highlight them and ask yourself if they are truly from your character’s life experience or from your own. Can you revise them to make them truer to your character?
Summary: Make note of every detail. Not only physical looks like, height, weight, skin color, hair, posture, but what they like. What they wear all the way down to their underwear. How they smell? Any special skills, talents or unusal habits? Don’t forget about their voice. Do some speak with an accent, stutter, use big words, etc.? What do they hate, love, want desire? Include obsessions, fears and aversions, traits found far beneath what the other characters in the book may perceive or understand. Even if some of the traits you write down never see the light of day, it will help you understand your characters better and make each one unique, which is a good thing for your readers.