There are two very specific “voices” in writing. One can be changed, one can’t. Let’s look at them for one moment.
First, there is your author voice. That special je ne sais quoi that means someone can blindly grab a book, read one line, and know you wrote it. It’s more than just your writing style, it’s your essence that shines through, your heart that bleeds onto the pages. It’s what makes you… well, you. That is a thing we can’t alter and a thing we shouldn’t. There is but one you in the world and that is a beautiful thing I never want to change.
Then there is your character voice. Now this is something that connects you to a character. I simply adore a character with unique and identifiable speech patterns. I love giving them little “catch phrases” so to speak.
This is going to be one of the simplest writing tips you’ve ever been given… write them the way you hear them in your head.
Whoa. Mind blowing right? Oh, come on, sarcasm is right there in the blog name, y’all. It should be expected and downright desired.
Let’s look at a couple of examples here. I have one character who is very uncertain and slightly awkward (and preciously adorable). So his voice reflects that. Let’s look at a piece of his dialogue if I simply write it and then follow that with how he sounded in my head (and what I actually wrote).
An adorable shade of crimson tinted his cheeks above the well groomed beard I was rapidly becoming a big fan of. “Manual labor will do that to you. You changed a bit there too.”
An adorable shade of crimson tinted his cheeks above the well groomed beard I was rapidly becoming a big fan of. “Manual labor will do that to ya… you, uh, you changed a bit there too.”
A small difference overall, but one manages to sound robotic and emotionless. The other evokes an image of a gorgeous bearded fellow blushing and toeing the ground as he tells his high school crush how attractive he finds him… even though they are ten years removed from high school.
Now let’s flip over to accents. I adore accents and when I see them reflected in the tone I can hear them as a reader, something I strive to offer in my own work. In another piece, my female main character’s boss is a good ole Southern gentleman from the heart of Texas transplanted to North Carolina. Here my sweet Georgia just said a profanity in front of him and immediately began apologizing. Again, writing “perfectly” followed by writing the way I hear him.
The older man threw his head back with a loud chuckle. “Georgia, you need to stop calling me Mr. Joseph and don’t be afraid to speak your mind. You’ve more than proven your competency and natural talent.”
The older man threw his head back with a loud chuckle. “Georgia, you gotta stop saying that Mr. Joseph stuff and for cryin’ out loud, girl, don’t be afraid to speak your mind. You’ve more than proven your competency and natural talent.”
If you are having any issues getting into the right tone of voice for your character, it’s time to do sensory research. For the first story, I don’t need to do much because uncertainty comes as naturally to me as breathing. For the second, a Southern accent is possibly the easiest for me since I hail from below the Mason-Dixon line myself, but listening to a little country music doesn’t hurt to get me in the right frame of mind.
Are you writing YA? Tune into some of the shows on Freeform, Nickelodeon, or Disney channels. Have a British character making a cameo? BBC exists for a reason (I’d suggest Doctor Who, but that is wholly self-serving because I neeeeeeeed to gush all over my beloved 10).
Whatever you feed in through your eyes and ears will be reflected in the words that pour from your fingers. Don’t be afraid of a few hyphens to stutter up an anxious character or ellipses if they are uncertain. Use slang words and ignore the red squiggles that tell you it’s misspelled. It is one (and possibly only) time where it’s completely okay to ignore the spell check in the name of your craft.