So, I have been researching how to give my characters a memorable voice. By no means am I talking about a voice for a cause, though that is admirable. What I desire is a recognizable tone so you know who is speaking at any given moment without using a tag such as “he/she said” or “John/Jane said”. Not that there is anything in particular wrong with that, but I envy anyone who is so skilled at doing so.
In order to do that I designed a way to practice. A way I find to be not only fun but highly entertaining! I thought I would share it with you if you ever find yourself in a similar position.
First pick five unique characters from completely different stories. Try to use someone from different genres, time lines, backgrounds, and with interesting personalities. I, for example, choose Tomoe from Kamisama Kiss, Tamaki from Ouran High School, Dustfinger from Inkheart, Grell from Black Butler, and Lord Conall Maccon from Soulless.
Next, take a moment and write a few lines to a page of dialogue from them. Get yourself into their heads and feel their angst or excitement. Align yourself with their personality. My favorite perspective to write from was Lord Maccon. I never thought I would like him so much, but he has a very specific attitude and a soft side which are fun idiosyncrasies.
Finally, throw all of them in a room together and make them talk. (Dance monkey!) This is where it really gets fun. Take, for instance, the fact that Tomoe is more proper and reserved, yet he can be a touch naïve. Then give him and Lord Maccon a round or two ending with Lord Maccon changing into a wolf… well let’s just remember Grell is in the room. Get it? Fun!
It’s a bit like writing fan fiction. Writing fan fiction is a great place to start if you need help in this area. It also could be used with friends who are familiar with those characters and can assist. The most important thing here is to never put a he/she said at the end. Give your friend a challenge to have them guess, when they’re done rolling their eyes. Now, I did cheat a bit by using familiar phrases that specific character would use, but then again that is a part of that character.
I honestly found the “happier” characters most difficult to write from. At least keeping them separate. Though Tamaki and Grell are extremely different, a calm Grell is harder to keep specifically different.
I almost chose Lord Akeldama but I figured that would be far too easy to identify. Especially considering he speaks in italics. I really wanted to push my writer self. I wanted to take and stretch those mental muscles to do what they are designed to do, create.
If I want my characters to have a tone that is all their own it takes practice. This was simply a fun way to try that out. I also have taken my MC’s out to lunch, sort to speak, to get a feel for their voice. I tend to believe that their background must dictate how they express themselves. And while that is partially true, it doesn’t have to be the case. Back to Tomoe, he doesn’t use contractions. No idea why, he just doesn’t. Lord Maccon has a gruffness. Granted he’s in the military and a werewolf, but he generally has a rough first impression anyway.
I love being able to feel their emotion and personality simply through their discourse. A writer who is incredibly gifted in such an area is Anne Rice. She can give you years of dialogue between two characters and you always know who is speaking. She can write from one character’s perspective and leave you feeling as if you sat down with them yourself. You cannot miss Lestat’s arrogance or Lois’ melancholy.
I have also taken characters from shows and done the same. Can I write in their unique tone and have them be recognizable? While it is easy to hear their voice in your brain you still have a responsibility to translate that across to your reader/audience. If they can’t interpret what you’ve attempted to do then there will be many future days where you spend the better part of an afternoon saying, “No, he meant that sarcastically”.
Take your characters and throw them into the most random situation you can imagine and have them talk their way through it. Did they suddenly get kidnapped and forced into a Mexican brothel? How about they fell into a hole while walking and slipped right through a wormhole into a past era? Or they were just caught being villainous by successfully creating Frankenstein’s monster? What would they say, how would they express themselves? Does your character sigh a lot from exasperation? Do they stutter? What kinds of language do they use? Are they well educated? Do they speak in complex ideas with unfamiliar jargon? All of these could impact the way your character speaks. To your audience and to another character.
Try a few of these and let me know what you think! Have a good one!