Today's Writing Wednesday post discusses character voice. Why is character voice important to the story and how does it help to shape the story itself? Here are a few examples from one of my favorite literary characters of ALL TIME:
"I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera. It's terrible."
"When I really worry about something, I don't just fool around. I even have to go to the bathroom when I worry about something. Only, I don't go. I'm too worried to go. I don't want to interrupt my worrying to go."
"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be."
Can anyone guess whose very authentically crafted voice that is? *fangirls a little* All Salinger aficionados should know this, but for those of you that don't - that would be none other than the voice of one Holden Caulfield.
The way the character describes certain things, how they react to the environment around them, their speaking patterns, even their choice of verbiage, are all different ways to make the character's personality come alive.
The Catcher in the Rye was written in first person POV and throughout the entire book, you get an absolute sense of who Holden is. Every word, every action, and every reaction is all authentically Holden Caulfield.
So how does a writer, who I'm sure have their own voices that show through in their written works, construct a character so believable it's as though the character has a completely separate mind of their own? In my experience, only one thing can help (unless of course the writer is a complete natural at being five different types of personalities all at once and is not deemed verifiably loony).
Practice. Practice. And oh, did I mention Practice?
You hear pieces of advice everywhere:
-listen to dialogue in different settings from strangers all around you
-have a conversation with someone who embodies similar personality traits to the character whose voice you're trying to authenticate
-draw up a practice dialogue scenario between your working character and a "quiet friend" to get a feel for how they would talk with limited prodding
-pick a few topics unrelated to your WIP/manuscript/book, along with a few of your key characters, and let them have at it in a practice dialogue setting
These suggestions may seem silly or what have you, but they totally work. I'm still learning how to write distinguishable character voices; to get them to a point where someone could read an excerpt of dialogue or monologue and say "Ohhh...I know who that is!".
But I know I'm getting better.
Voice was something I struggled with when I started writing to the extent of how I'm doing it now. I look back to the very first story I attempted to write and the WIP that I'm currently working on and smile (you know, after the initial epic grimace face). *laughs*
To me, there is a substantial difference. I'm happy with the progression. I'm ecstatic that the practice I've put in and the proactive learning helped out, even if only by a small margin. I can see it. And really, isn't that what really matters? That we constantly improve, learn more, and continue improving?
For now, I'm pretty content with that.
How do you begin fleshing out your characters? What steps do you go through to personalize them, to give them the tools to take the reigns and come alive?