In creative writing, voice is everything. It is what defines the narrative and connects the readers. It is what agents watch for when looking for the story that jumps out at them. And more importantly of all, it makes your characters authentic. Getting it right can be tough. Some character voices may come without much thought, others require more work. And it’s vital that your characters don’t read the same, causing the reader to go back and figure out who’s talking. I’m sharing some tips I’ve learned so far;
Start with what’s natural
First drafts are for spewing out your story, as basic and messy as you like. So, start with what comes naturally. You might find that some characters just roll out, with a distinct voice that sets them apart from any others. If this is the way the character comes to you, perfect! It gives you the rawest sense of that character, and can be tweaked later for those who need it.
Television shows and movies are a great way to observe speech. It might be reality television, documentaries, or talk shows, where people aren’t playing a part, and simply speaking as they normally do. Likewise, it could be actors in a role, following a script that has been designed to ensure the dialogue sounds authentic. Either way, it’ll give you a sense of the way people really talk. Books can be guilty at times at producing dialogue that is stiff, too flowery, or simply unnatural, and this can take the reader of of the moment.
Read out loud
Another way to ensure the dialogue and narration reads naturally, is to speak your work out loud. How does it sound to you? Do you find yourself omitting words, or even adding them, to make the sentence sound right? Do you find that off the page it sounds forced, cheesy, or fake? This is a great editing tool, and can really show you where to make changes. You can also use computer programs that read out your work, for the same result.
Use phonetics and slang as appropriate
Your characters can speak however suits them. This might mean using phonetics, to highlight accents. It could mean adding or dropping words to imply status, or age. And you can use slang if appropriate to show more about the character and where they’re from. While you need to ensure the reader is still aware of what’s going on, this can be a really great way to put the voice in the reader’s mind.
Don’t edit away your voice
When editing, we tend to get tough on ourselves. And while this is important in some ways, we must ensure we don’t risk editing away our voice. If a vibrant, eccentric character speaks in clichés, keep them in, even though it’s a general ‘rule’ clichés should be avoided. The way your character speaks doesn’t have to conform to ‘good English’, especially if this shows the reader more about them, so be sure you don’t edit away these quirks.
You can be too close to a story, and with edit after edit, you can become blind to certain factors. Seek feedback from a critique partner or beta reader who can advise you on the voice, and what does/doesn’t work.
If you’ve any ‘voice’ tips you’d like to share, drop a comment below!