Image: Crystal Queen by Selenada
A book can contain a lot of characters, all very different and with different voices. Yet they are all written by the same person - and the writer has a voice too. How does that writer stop all their characters sounding the same?
I'm a bit surprised. When I think of all the characters in all my stories, I can't think of any two that sound like each other even though I created them all. But then the "me" is up for debate; I've suspected for some time now that I have borderline personality disorder, in which case perhaps a character will be written by whichever "me" is present. Still, it's odd. I don't think I have more than 15 egos, but I must have almost fifty heroines (and heros).
My focus lately was making sure my protagonist has a distinctive voice. Because she drives the story, readers have to least empathise with her, even if getting them to like her is a feat. So, how does one create a distinctive voice?
Image Credit: I have no idea but I think I found it on facebook.
1. HUMOUR IS THE WAY (99.9% of the time, and I have no idea what the last point-one percent is.)
If a protagonist (and narrator, in first-person narration stories) is funny, I'm sold. This was how I got so hooked on Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant series. I found Moon Over Soho so heart-achingly hilarious that I bought it straight away, and River Of London too.
The type of humour a character uses will also shape their voice. For example in my novel, Karalan's humour is deadpan and sometimes sarcastic which goes hand in hand with her slightly aggressive tone; whereas Rogs' humour (you'll hear more about HIM later) is very, um, 'bawdy' and often inappropriate XD which I think matches his direct and straightforward way of speaking.
2. Need. A. Point. Of. REFERENCE.
If I was writing about a ten year old boy, I would have to try and get out of my twenty-one year old girl's mind and inside the head of a ten-year old. I could do that by reading books for that age group, or talking to a cousin/nephew/brother of a friend. I could also just make it up and hope nobody finds out, buuuuut eeerrrr probablynotagoodidea.
It really helps to draw from inspiration like someone you hear on the bus/train or a movie character (I personally never use friends or family). Everyone has a way of talking that is unique to them, and highlighting a character's quirks makes them stand out. I find that dynamic personalities, the ones that are slightly more exaggerated, make a bigger impact on me; like Suze from Meg Cabot's The Mediator series, or Rose from Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy.
It's also better when that character's personality is fully realised first. For example, what they do for a living, what their hobbies are, the sort of things they like, what they believe in, what music they listen to, and so on. Once I know that, it's much easier to figure out what sort of voice they'll have. Defiant? Sardonic? Chirpy? (I heart chirpy.)
Image: Bridging The Seas With A Boat by Rob Gonsalves
But ultimately, it's a magic act. Like you're hiding behind the pages of the book, acting out thirty different characters at once and making the reader believe that it's the characters' voices, not yours.
There's this one exercise I came across when I was at school. If the dialogue in your book had no indicators (eg. Karalan said or Jory said), would the reader be able to tell which lines belong to the protagonist?
I don't actually like this exercise because I think it's really hard >.< but on the other hand, I can't deny that it's really helped me make careful choices about the way Karalan speaks. For example, I had to ask myself - does she speak in short or long sentences? Does she use slang (colloquial language) or formal language (even archaic)? Does she swear, or exaggerate? Does she use religious exclamations like 'Oh my God'? Does she say 'please' and 'thank you', and how easy is it for her to say 'sorry'?
Making these choices really helped to refine who she is. Also when we "meet" a character in a book, it's not like meeting someone in real life where you might notice how they look and act first. In books, a lot of first impressions come from what a character says.
Another article you might find useful is To Boldly Write in the Voice of a Child by Claire King.
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How do you make you main character's voice stand out? Do you have any (probably better) tips for creating a strong main character?
Ashana Lian .