Thursday, July 2, 2009

Finding Your Character's Voice

How do you find your character's voice? You've heard it all over town, the voice in writing is like, uber-important. So how do you find yours?

I know some authors who stew and stew before penning a single word. Others produce draft after draft of outlines. I seriously don't know how they do that. I can't even produce a single draft of an outline. Still others make notes, outline and stew all before writing. I've seen character sheets and talked about character bibles before. I've read blog after blog where these people contribute all this "behind the scenes" writing to the success of their actual writing.

Le sigh.

I wish I was one of them.

Sadly, I am not. I don't do any of those things.

So how do I find my character's voice?

Simply put: I write.

It comes. Sometimes if the character is fully formed in my mind, I know exactly what they'll say, how they'd react to almost anything, the whole nine yards. But if I don't stew and make notes, how is the character fully formed in my mind? Yeah, wouldn't you like to get inside my head. *snarfage*

Well, sometimes--and don't tell anyone--I base my characters on actual, living, breathing people. Bam! Fully formed characters ready to talk and walk and be put through major drama in printed form.

If I don't have a fully formed character in my head, I still write. Usually their character, their "voice" comes through, especially when I write dialog. This sometimes happens in the beginning (in Control Issues, I "knew" Vi when I wrote the second chapter--the scene in the courtroom). Sometimes this doesn't happen until later. Then I have to go back and make sure that the earlier writing is in line with the correct character, the correct "voice".

Some might argue that I should take more time up front to work out these "kinks". Yeah, argue that if you want. But I am the unconventional writer. I don't do no stinking character sheets. I write to find my characters, my stories, my voice.

How do you find your character's voice? (And there's nothing wrong with doing character sheets. Don't hit me with mean comments! I love character sheets...for someone else.)


Scott said...

The voice comes as I write. My characters - even when based loosely on real people - are rarely fully formed when I begin to write. I just write and see what happens. The voice emerges. The personality emerges. The quirks emerge. I get to know my characters as I write - it's an evolving process. Kind of like when I become friends with someone - it happens over time! So, second draft phase the character is second nature and the voice is stronger.


Cali MacKay said...

I'm the same way. I just write and the characters just come into being. Sometimes they don't quite settle into their true being until part way through the story, so I may need to make some adjustments to the earlier versions of their character. But I never plot or plan and I've never even heard of a character sheet before this post, lol. Besides, my characters are all too stubborn and likely wouldn't agree to go along with I had planned anyway.

Tere Kirkland said...

Voice for me is a combination of what story I'm trying to tell (the tone and the stakes) and the pov character's personality. I tend to be more comfortable writing tight povs, whether from first or third.

After a whole lot of stewing, and a bit of outlining and even more daydreaming and spending some time with the characters, then I start writing, and the voice just... comes.

But it's not something that can't be forced, or it sounds forced. I can't write in a modern, pop teen voice, so I've decided to go back in time a century for my next NiP. I think I'm more comfortable in the past anyway. ;)

Lisa Guill said...

My story is from the viewpoints of an assassin and the girl he is trying to kill, and it has taken me about five drafts to finally find both of their voices. Which is why I haven't moved past chapter six in over a year (revising, revising, revising)...and my husband mocks me endlessly for this. I started with an idea of the characters, and their personalities developed as I wrote each draft. What I didn't expect to find was the sarcastic, profanity-laden voice of the character I'm basing on myself :)

Anonymous said...

You know me - everything is about being authentically in a character's voice. I find it when I write - but I have to stew first. Sometimes I stew for a few days, other times I stew for weeks. The story I am working on now was a thought in my head about six months ago. I wrote the initial ideas down so I wouldn't lose it -

Then I stewed. And stewed. And stewed.

Finally I woke one day and was ready to write. It is a process for me.

Now my characters have hanged in the process of writing - but the first hint of voice came while stewing.

Rebecca Knight said...

I'm a stewer :). My story ideas are often linked very closely with who's going to be going on the journey, so I sit and ponder their personalities before I do anything.

Sometimes I start writing first, then do some character bible stuff to help myself out :P, but sometimes I have to sit and sort it out first or I feel stuck.

It's weird, because I'm disorganized in other areas of my life, but if I do that with my writing, it doesn't work so well.

I'm actually jealous of you, Elana! It sounds so much simpler to just have it happen!

lisa and laura said...

We're stewers and outliners and character note makers. I've taken to using a little notebook and I have a characters name and the title of the project on each page and anytime I get a random thought about a character I just jot it down. I usually like to have 10 things or traits nailed down for each character before we start writing. It helps me to visualize how they'll react and interact within the world we're creating for them.

Yeah, your way sounds much simpler.

XiXi said...

Psh, I am the epitome of inefficiency. I write, even when the character voice clearly isn't there. And then what happens is either I figure it out halfway through and the first half has to be completely rewritten or the entire first draft ends up being a huge outline. This is where I am now, having spat out a 71k draft. I'm halfway through the second-draft-which-is-really-a-first-draft. I should learn to stew some more. Or do some character charts or something.

Brigitte Ballard said...

I have to admit the short childrens story I started writing has real people behind every character. One of my friends even volunteered to be the evil one.

Kathryn Hupp-Harris said...

Snarfage? I love that word.

I think the easiest way to hear your characters voice is to listen to them for awhile.


Put them in a situation in your mind, pretend they're characters in a movie and "listen" to the way they'd interact.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I'm not an organizer, so outlines are torture for me. One class I took was so much about planning that I felt drained of any sparkage. But having said that, I just spent half a year pouring out a YA fantasy based on two characters from a dream I had. It kept my crit group enthused, but I realized as I neared the end that I had some plot and character problems that made me go back to defining them and their goals more precisely. I "interviewed" them and had some eye-opening moments that I think will really make the second draft work. So maybe that's backwards but it seems to be working.

Robyn Campbell said...

Here, here! I tried character sheets the last time around. I filled them out and n-e-v-e-r looked at them again. I started one this time and said,"Oh to heck with it." Moral of my story? I don't do that stuff. I just get something down on the computer screen! :)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Yup, I do it, or rather attempt to find my characters voice via writing as well. I do do character sketches ahead of time, but none of these 50-page ones. It's in the revisions that I hone the voices. If I succeed at all.

ajgallion said...

Well, truth be told -- I find that the characters' voices reveal themselves to me the more I write. In other words, the more I bring a character to life, the more his/her voice will emerge.

Rachael said...

I not an outliner and I'm not a stewer either. I take notes on what I want to happen and just write. Sometimes if I need to figure out a character, I get one of my favorite '100 questions for your character' sheets and fill it out until the character starts talking to me.

The only thing I take notes on is the character's age, eye color, hair color, and appearance. Because that's always slipping my mind while I write.

Danyelle L. said...

Amen! My characters show up when I'm writing. That's when I let them go about their business while I follow them around with the laptop typing like crazy.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I am with you - I don't use character sheets or spend lots of time stewing about my characters, I simply find them in the writing.

Sometimes, like how you mentioned the courtroom scene with Vi, there will be one specific moment where things really just start to click. And those moments are awesome.

Katie Salidas said...

I love to work dialogue in my head. that's where I really hear my characters voices. I know, I sound crazy lol, hearing voices in my head is never a good sign. Once I think I have them figured out I write out all the dialogue and pray the voice translates. I think it's working so far.

Ryan S. Kinsgrove said...

I have a variety of different techniques. My favorite one to figure out brand new characters is to sit down with my DnD handbook and let the character figure themselves out while I go through the process of creating the character and filling out the character sheet (though I usually don't use it once I finish the character).

Another process I use is sort of like an interview. I'll sit down with a sheet of paper, ask questions, and then write the character's name and have them respond.

The other one I use is also basing characters off of people I know (or having them complete my favorite way of doing it). Then while writing the story I will ask the person to read over the story every now and then to make sure I'm using the character properly.

I also just write to find some of them. Sometimes that does work the best.

(quixotic: I think its almost normal for writers to hear voices. If we didn't all of our characters would sound the same.)

Elana Johnson said...

Very cool guys! At least I'm not alone in the character sheet department. Once I have several drafts done, I can usually interview my characters and know exactly what they're going to say/do. It's all a process.

And man, it's not simple to go back and fix 17,000 words of "wrong" voice. So I wouldn't say my way is simpler. Just less organized and less efficient. ;-)

Abby Annis said...

I'm with you, Elana. I don't outline, and I tried to do a character sheet once, but I got bored with it. Makes for a lot of rewriting but it just feels forced any other way. :)

See Elana's recent blog posts

Recent Posts Widget