Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Novel Characters Need Their Own Voice

Entry One

Reading a novel has the potential to be more fulfilling than watching a movie. A skilled author can put you inside the characters’ minds, describe surroundings in minute, explicit detail, and provide insight that may not be noticed on the big screen. However, if the writer falls short of good characterization, meaning insufficient physical descriptions and inadequately developed personalities, the story becomes unbelievable and very often two dimensional.

In this and subsequent blog posts I will endeavor to explain some of the considerations in the development and continuous delivery of characters in a book.

I have read many explanations of how other authors create their characters and give them their unique voice. Once I read an interview with a bestselling author wherein he explained how he often tests his characters’ voices by writing multiple versions of the same dialogue, while experimenting with different expressions, word usage, and verbal characteristics. In the end he chose the version that best represented the essence of each character. I like this process and have experimented with it myself.

Before we can get to the voice (meaning each individual character’s choice of words, accent, delivery, favorite expressions, and any other elements that make the character unique) we must first know the character and understand his/her role in the story. In any book primary characters will receive more attention, and greater detail, than other individuals with a much smaller role. Too many primary characters in a story often confuse the reader and distract from the plot.

First, before we can know how a character sounds we must develop basic information through which we can imagine, or hear in our mind’s ear, his/her unique voice. It begins with the simple stuff: gender, height, weight, hair and eye color, ethnicity, education, upbringing, propensities, geographical culture, and how we envision the character in the story.
Once we have a mental image of the character we can begin to listen to what he might say and how he might say it. From there we can actually write a few versions of the aforementioned sample dialogue and see which entry best represents the character.

Stay tuned for my next entry. In future posts we will discuss accents, word usage, grammar, profanity and the importance of individualism in truly memorable characters.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets

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