Finding a Character’s Voice

Character development is already a difficult task. I can’t fathom how many hours I’ve spent struggling with creating characters and understanding exactly who they are. It’s not simply how the characters grow as the story progresses, but how the world reacts to them. Do they give off a different aura about them than they had initially? Does their family even recognize them anymore? Do they recognize themselves once the dust settles? After spending a large amount of my free time this year reading and writing, I’ve come to a realization that one of the best ways to show a character for who they are and how they’ve developed is through their voice.

I’ve found that I have an incredibly difficult time when it comes to finding a character’s voice. During my first draft and my first round of editing, I honestly found that every character I write has the same style of speech. I found that my characters have a rather stoic speech pattern throughout the novel. Especially in scenes that are supposed to be emotional and painful. I’ve found that the way they speak and the way they interact is devoid of emotion and lacks any real feeling to what’s happening. It’s during my second round of editing that I try to fix this but it is surprisingly difficult and one of elements of writing I’ve tried to study from reading other novels and speeches.

A character’s voice really says more about them in a meaningful way than exposition ever could. The venom a character can display towards one character versus the softer tone towards a loved one can really display who is important to them. It’s less obvious and more organic than simply having the narrator state these facts. Rather than having a character say something, if they were to scowl as they spoke or grinned while speaking, it can imply something rather than state it. For instance if someone was to say: “’It was well deserved.’ Simon scowled” can imply a hint of sarcasm in their speech. You as the writer can make a character far more eerie by having inappropriate reactions in their speeches. A character could respond to a tragedy with words that imply sincerity but then deliver it with a smile or a giggle. It follows the rule of Show Don’t Tell that makes writing so much more effective.

What’s more interesting though is that the word choice for how a character speaks can add more emphasis to what they’ve said. Adding adjectives make a sentence far more colorful than the simple statement being delivered. It can also help to reveal more about the character’s nature rather than the narration stating so. “’How dare you, a dirty street rat, think you have the right to speak to me!’ The chancellor sneered as he drew his sword.” The sentence gives a clear idea that the chancellor has a very high opinion of himself and his arrogance is displayed so openly. It sounds so simple but it’s honestly taken me far longer than I’d like to admit to realize how important dialogue construction really is.

Finding the character’s voice often requires more personal questions of the character that the author has to consider. If a character talks in a very angry manner, there has to be a reason behind it. It could be from a tense moment previously. If a character always speaks in an angry tone, then it gets into a question of what made them talk in such a way. What tragic or painful experience did they have that made them engage with everyone in a gruff and angered tone? What happened to this person to make them this way? If a character talks one way at the start of the story and then has a hardened voice or any kind of change in their dialogue, it becomes one of the cleanest and easiest ways to display character growth. It’s a very real life concept when meeting and talking to people in real life as well. Everyone’s experience shapes who they are and how they talk to others. It’s what makes a character feel more human, something all us authors should strive for.

– Raphael

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