Developing Our Characters’ Voices
Write Better, Right Now is a weekly post helping writers understand deeper writing strategies to take their stories to the next level.
Write Better, Right Now’s topics for March:
- Finding Our Characters’ Voices (3/7)
- Developing Our Characters’ Voices (3/16) *late due to testing
- Dialogue as Exposition (3/21)
- Inner Voice (3/28)
Once you’ve found your character’s voice, how do you deepen it to make it memorable and engaging? This is the second biggest hurdle a lot of writers face. They’ve found that cool voice and they’re like ‘Great! I’m done.’ But going the extra step to develop, deepen, and shape that voice around your story can create an even richer voice and engaging dialogue throughout your story.
“Jerry waved, pushing past all pleasantries. ‘We need to talk.’
Martin mumbled under his breath, ‘Says who?’”
This example pulled from last week’s write-up on finding our characters’ voices is a great start at writing engaging dialogue. But it could be doing a lot more.
“Jerry grunted, ‘I’m tired of waiting on you to make a decision.’
Martin kept his back to his husband and mumbled, ‘Just cause you don’t like my choice doesn’t mean I didn’t make one.’”
While both examples show character and offer the readers a bit of intrigue. The second one gives the readers hints about the story and the relationship dynamic between the two characters. They both make the reader wonder what it is the two characters need to talk about, but the second example cues them into the fact that a choice needs to be made and a decision has already come up, but it’s not one the characters agree on. Writers can take good dialogue and turn it into great and natural dialogue that also conveys story and character information when they develop their characters’ voices past simply crafting them.
Dis time in de cemetery Tanty didn’t say anything because even she was bawlin’ like a cow with everybody else. Mama was de loudest. She voice was like a cutlass chopping straight through de noise. Daddy stand up stiff next to she and was silent, like a stone.
I know why nobody tell Mama to hold up sheself dis time. It was because it was me dead in de casket in de bottom of de hole. It was my funeral.
Except I wasn’t in de box.
I was standing behind one of de concrete headstone watching Mama and all meh aunties and uncles bawl. I cry too, because I didn’t remember how I get there and I didn’t want to be dead.
Let’s get into it more below!
Developing your character’s voice should happen both in dialogue and outside of it through how their internal narrative sounds or even how they express themselves without words. Many resources on character voice focus solely on finding it and how to make it unique. Developing a character’s voice is less about making it unique and more about adding depth and a consistent range to it so the voice feels real and unique. It also allows writers to layer their dialogue and scene with intrigue, exposition, and character information.
It’s always better to use the first draft and plotting or planning to find your character’s voice and save developing it for the revision stage. During the developmental stage, writers are already working on how to carve out more of their story and characters so all the story’s parts have depth and structure. So while working on pinpointing more of your characters’ aspects, look at each scene or exchange of dialogue and examine what your characters are doing and saying in it.
If there’s an argument taking place, how can the dialogue heighten the tension and draw the reader in so they feel like they’re caught in the middle versus simply reading a back and forth? Also, look at how the dialogue is unfolding and if it has connections to scenes or moments in other parts of the story. This is also the time where you can see if you can layer in specific phrases unique to situations or characters. Or find ways to repeat certain lines to craft a sense of completeness or show that maybe a character isn’t over a particular moment in the story.
Take a current work in progress and examine a scene’s dialogue for what it’s doing and how it’s deepening the story, character relationships, and characterization. If you find your dialogue is only doing one thing, like telling information to your reader, you’ve found a place where you need to develop your characters’ voices more so they are more than an agent within your story but a person with their own wants, desires, and motivations.
Examine each angle of your scene from your characters’ perspectives. Besides conveying information to the reader, why are they in this scene? Is it because they have a deeper secret driving them to want to speak with this other character? Or do they have a hidden desire to see the other character fail?
Write Better, Right Now’s topics from February:
- Indirect and Direct Characterization (2/7)
- Character Action (2/16)
- Interior World of Characters (2/21)
- Physically Describing Our Characters (2/28)
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Please don’t forget to leave a comment and tell me your thoughts on describing your characters or how you use it in your writing! I’d also love to know how you made out with the exercise. Catch you next week for our Write Better, Right Now post on using character voice as exposition.
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