Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: Avoiding a Faceless Voice

 **Image snatched from**


You know your characters have to have one. We hear it all the time: agents and editors are looking for voice.  Sounds simple enough in theory.  Your characters speak, and that's their voice.  But so many times, I feel like all I'm getting out of a character is a voice without a face (hence, the picture).  I think this is what happens when people describe characters as being flat or 2-dimensional.  These are all ways of saying the character lacks a distinctive voice.

When I think of VOICE, I'm thinking about understanding the core of the person.  Knowing a character's personality so well that I can curl up inside their brain for a bit.  I don't need to be TOLD what a character looks like, I need to be allowed to see it on my own by knowing them from the inside out.

As an author, one of the things that helps me (I hope) create characters with voice is to find faces for them.  I'll scour the internet searching for faces that represent the characters who are already playing around inside my head.  For me, having a face to look at, eyes that peer back at me from a storyboard, helps me dig deeper into that character's personality.  Each of us has many sides, feelings, thoughts versus actions, etc.

Take this personal example. I played a lot of carpool last week and brought 2 other kids home for a 4-hour playdate.  Their mom called me super-mom.  What she didn't see was me frequently checking my watch or working to modulate my routinely brusque tone so I didn't scare the 4 year old in my charge.  What I appeared to the other mom on the outside was quite different from how I felt on the inside.

Your characters have to be multi-dimensional too, or they will lack voice.

Hopefully the following examples will illustrate what I'm trying to say.  In each of them, these MC's voices are so clear to me that I can picture being best buds with this person. I understand them, where they're coming from, and that gives them "voice":

Example 1 --

Mia's words rattle something loose in me and suddenly there are tears all over my damn face again.  I haven't cried in three years and now this is like the second time in as many days.

"It's my turn to see you through," she whispers, coming back to me and wrapping me in her blanket as I lose my shit all over again.  She holds me until I recover my Y chromosome.  Then she turns to me, a slightly faraway look in her eyes.  "Your festival's next Saturday, right?" she asks.

Where She Went by Gayle Forman -- voice of Adam Wilde, 21 year old rock star

Example 2 --

The "Holy-crap-that's-a-lot-of-pink" Zone would have been a more accurate description.

I don't know what I was expecting a vampire's room to look like. Maybe lots of black, a bunch of books by Camus ... oh, and a sensitive portrait of the only human the vamp had ever loved, who had no doubt died of something beautiful and tragic, thus dooming the vamp to an eternity of moping and sighing romantically.

What can I say? I read a lot of books.

But this room looked like it had been decorated by the unholy love child of Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake.

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, voice of Sophie Mercer, 16 year old witch

For me, each of these characters have a three-dimensional voice in completely different ways.  Their word choices, in particular, give concrete clues about what's going on inside their brains.  Whereas Adam is showing us that he's disgusted with himself for crying (tears all over my damn face, lose my shit), Sophie is displaying her shock and biting wit (unholy love child of Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake).  Just by reading a few paragraphs of their voice, I have an image of them in my brain.

So as an author, I'd encourage you to think about not only the "voice" you want to project, but the face as well.  If the tone, word choice and sentence structure aren't consistent and distinctive enough to allow your reader to form their own mental picture of your characters, it might be time to get out the red pen.

What are your tips for creating a distinctive voice?


  1. I really have to know my characters to give them the voice I want. If I don't, their voice turns out to be my voice, and that's not right either. I do some serious character sketching before I write so I know my character's exact voice.

    Awesome tips! Thanks Oasis!

  2. Great post, and awesome choices for examples. I'm with you on the whole let me see the character through his/her voice rather than description. I know by paragraph one whether the voice is going to be strong enough to work for me. I choose books with this simple test. I guess that's why I make sure my characters voices are evident right from the start.

  3. Like PK, I also do extensive character work before I start. Then I try to get into the character's head and think and speak as they would. And boy, I'm still learning!

  4. It's all about crawling inside those characters and looking at the world from their eyes, especially how they see themselves. That why I like the idea of giving them a face, Oasis--not the one others see, but one they see.


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