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When I think about voice, the first thing that comes to mind is distinction.
Most people would recognize Mickey Mouse's voice without any explanation. And few people would mistake Miss Piggy's voice for Kermit the Frog's voice. Both are identifiable ~ unique.
What makes a voice standout from another? What makes voice distinct?
Tone, Diction, and sentence structure play a huge roll in defining voice. (Sounds like dialog just might be my next Writer Wednesday theme.)
Voice reflects the "who" of your character and the invisible drapery of personality, hopes, dreams, hurts, and those desires hidden even from them. It gives "sound" to your words on the page. Voice connects the layers of a character.
Miss Piggy is a snarky, stubborn verigo with a relatively stalkerish crush on Kermit the Frog. How do I know this? Diction or word choice, firstly. If you've ever listened to the dialog written for her, you've noticed the distinct rawness to her words. She rarely speaks with sweet or calming words, unless she's trying to soften some blow to poor Kermit. And then there's the bluntness she delivers her words, her mannerisms and force. That would be Tone.
Background, ethnic group, and setting of the story can also be huge in developing voice. Develop and plan, these. A character's experiences also steer voice. We've all read characters that speak hard or rough and then those who seem way too meek for anyone's good. Just as your life experiences have molded you, so have the struggles and hurdles of your character's life. Understand each like it was your life.
If you're having trouble with voice, try asking yourself these questions:
1. What is this character's background? (It may not be developed enough.)
2. What is the world they live in and how do they relate to it? (You may need more description and think about it in relation to the character.)
3. How well do I know or understand 1 &2? (If not, do more research.)
4. What are his/her motivations behind the goals I've set?
There are many exercises to developing voice.
Take a character from a book or movie you know well. I mean really well. We all had them, probably from high school. Set them in a place they'd never go and think what they'd say. If it feels out of sync, you probably understand their voice.
You can also take a staple character like a Jewish Rabbi or a traffic cop from a small town and put them in a place you wouldn't expect them to travel. Maybe put the Rabbi in a populated amusement park and the small-town traffic cop on the stand at a Superior Court proceeding. What do you hear?
Lastly, a great exercise is journaling. It can be true to your life or pretend. Just write as if it's your life.
Voice takes practice but it can be fun to play with. For me, it's one of the few aspects of writing I'm comfortable with. I love mixing it up, putting words in a character's mouth that no one would expect yet keeping them true to who they are as my make believe friends.
Can you think of a character with an unforgettable voice?