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)
- Dialogue as Exposition (3/21)
- Inner Voice (3/28)
At the beginning of the month, we went over finding our characters’ voices and developing them. When we did this, an important aspect was to remember your character talks differently depending on who they are talking to and when. That is the same if they are talking to themselves as well. Think about yourself or even your friends. Do you think the way they talk to you is the same way they talk to themselves? Do you talk to yourself the way you talk to others? Maybe you think in pictures or images while you speak in words. Your characters are no different.
“Jerry said, ‘I really, really don’t know how to say this.’
But Jerry couldn’t stop saying it to himself: I super don’t want to do this.”
While the above example isn’t wrong or bad or anything like that, it keeps the character’s voice the same both internally and externally. It doesn’t add a lot of engagement or pull the reader into the depth of the character, but it does convey the character’s inner world.
“Jerry said, ‘I really, really don’t know how to say this.’
But Jerry couldn’t stop saying it to himself: fuck this, fuck this, fuck this.”
The second example changes how the character talks in a way that shows the character has some layers, there is more than just the surface to Jerry. This small change can build a rich inner world for your characters. Like with all techniques in writing, the choice of how to show your character’s inner voice is up to you. Do you want your reader to see that your character has more than meets the eye? Or do you want to keep the focus off the character’s inner life so you can shine it somewhere else?
I disregard the insubordinate door and go back to my desk. I reach into the drawer, grabbing the Old Monk and a glass. I pour myself a peg, knock it back, feeling the welcome burn of cheap rum. With a glance at the door in case she’s returned, I defiantly reach for my copy of The Big Sleep. Then I pour another peg.
I’m raising the glass to my lips when I hear the knock and see Sandhya poking her head in, her thick black hair oiled and pulled neatly back into a plait, a pair of bright inquisitive eyes looking at me from above a mouth which as always, has the hint of a smile about it, as though its wearer is perpetually on the verge of amusement. I beckon her in; she doesn’t move.
I turn back to look glumly at my drink. “You heard all that? This is it, Sandhu. We’re pretty much fu—”
Let’s get into it more below!
Nondialogue voice or your character’s inner voice is usually done in a way that aligns with how the character speaks with the rest of the characters in the story. But sometimes an author wants to show that a character has extra depth or perhaps isn’t who they appear to be to the reader or other characters in the story. There are lots of reasons for wanting to do this. The only wrong reason to do it is that it’s cool or looks interesting.
Everything in our story builds up to the whole of the story. So when we throw in aspects, specifically when related to characterization, that has no place in the story besides they are cool, there creates a disconnect between the story and what’s on the page. A person who inside talks like a valley girl surfer but outwardly speaks like a lawyer being paid by the word may seem cool or unique, but if there isn’t a reason for the difference in voices, it’ll just read odd or out of place in the story. There are a few exceptions to this, but for the most part, the outside voice and inside voice of your characters can be different but there should be a reason why there is a difference.
Like I’ve mentioned, there isn’t anything wrong with having a character who talks the same to themselves as they do to other people. But if you’re trying to show that your character is processing something internally, consider showcasing that in their inner voice. While they may not be showing a reaction on the surface, you can give the reader lush imagery of how the character is feeling simply by changing how they sound inwardly.
No matter how you choose to make your character sound on the inside, you go about finding out their inner voice in the same way you found out their speaking voice. Dig into who they are, where they’re from, and how it all has affected them in how they speak to themselves or even inwardly when watching something happens. The other important thing to mention is that your character’s inner voice isn’t always the same as the narrative voice or the voice of the narrator.
With a recent or current work in progress, go through and highlight every time your POV character says something inwardly or to themselves. Make sure this is not your narrative voice or narrator speaking, but actually what your character is thinking or saying on the inside. Write what you notice in how they talk to others vs themselves.
What is their voice telling your reader about your character? If it’s inline with what you want to convey, move on to any other point of view characters and make sure your characters are who you want them to be inside and out.
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 using your character’s internal voice or your struggle areas with it in your writing! I’d also love to know how you made out with the exercise. Catch you next month for our Write Better, Right Now posts on descriptive writing.