Speak to Me…

I’m thinking about voice now, about how it frames and directs a character, as well as our sense of who they are.

How a person speaks reflects so much: their background, their education, their “themes” in life, their passions, their viewpoints.  When they write, we can “hear them” in their words.

It’s such an integral piece to have down when one’s writing fiction.  So that leads me to a writing question for those of you in the habit of creating characters (or having them pop up unexpectedly and barter/bribe/force their way into your text).

1.  What comes first for you:  a real sense, in the totality, of who the character is, or their voice?
2.  Do certain types of characters take their voices more easily than others, for you?
3.  And if you’ve written more than one manuscript/book, do you find by and large any commonalities in the voices that come easiest to you?

I mentioned a week or so ago that I’d created a new character.  I’d called him an “accidental” character.  One moment I was with my characters escaping the Bloomington rain in a little diner I once huddled in years ago, and the next moment he’d walked across the ether and sat down with us, his motives close to the chest.  I wasn’t sure if he’d last or not, but now I think he’s a keeper.  And one thing I love about him is that he finally did what only my antagonists had been able to do thus far.  He came with his whole self formed.

I mean, I love characters who come fully formed.  Saves me the time and trouble, I tell you.  😉  But what he also came with was his voice.  Literally the sound of it, its timbre and emotive resonance, its pattern.  Even his pauses.  This makes him so far my strongest voice, but even so, I know it needs development and refinement over the course of my rewrites.  That’s okay.  I’m just glad I hear him.  It makes writing him easier.

For me, the sum of a character has come first each time.  Only when I really sense them can I write them–that is, have them speak using their own voices, and not just my words–and even then, voice does not come easily to me yet.  My two favorite antagonists came fully formed, but even so, their voices are still being refined.  One, I can hear.  I know his style; he’s so cognizant of it, I can’t help but be.

But my heroes, I could shoot them with a brick.  They run from scrutiny.  Their voices are still mine.  To me, that’s the big clue they need more development.

So, what about you–does the character come first, or the voice?  And do you have some voices come easier to you, like my antagonists and this new fellow (bless his soul)?

And for that matter, how easy is voice for you to master?

Nighttime Doorway, New York

Nighttime Doorway, New York

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About sputnitsa

Born in the US, I grew up in Africa and the West Indies, and returned stateside in my teens. After a decade in international development, democracy work, and inclusivity training for domestic NGOs, I joined Peace Corps, and after a year, experienced my first Russian invasion. I followed that up by volunteering with refugees and youth, and after some vacation time climbing minarets and mountains, I returned to New York City, where today I work on social justice with college students, produce short films, and write.
This entry was posted in analyzing one's writing, antagonists, bad boys, character development, characters, fiction, first drafts, language, photos, villains, voice, willful characters, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Speak to Me…

  1. ralfast says:

    That was the first positive thing people said about my writing, they liked the Voice. Problem was, I had no idea what they were talking about. Then again my first WIP is in 1st POV, so if I had gotten the voice wrong, well….

  2. matthewgraybosch says:

    I don’t really think of my characters as speaking directly to me. Instead, I’m more like a fly on the wall, listening to my characters talk without them knowing I’m there. However, I do recognize each character’s voice. For example: Morgan, the protagonist, speaks very carefully and very formally. He wants to be seen as an educated gentleman, rather than some lowlife from Queens who grew up on the streets. He never uses contractions in his speech, and almost never uses profanity.

    • sputnitsa says:

      Nice. Those characters of mine who are most cognizant of their own speech–because they’re controlling and modulating it deliberately–I hear better. But the others…they’re tougher for me to grasp.

      But it sounds like you do hear your characters clearly. Are there types of characters you hear more quickly and more clearly from the start?

      Thanks for coming by and thanks for sharing!

      • matthewgraybosch says:

        To be honest, a character’s voice is usually the last thing I get. When I first came up with my protagonist, he had his back turned towards me, and was about to draw a sword upon an enemy I could not see. I couldn’t hear his voice, but I could tell from his posture that he was shouting defiance. So I had to ask myself, “Who is this guy, why does he have a sword, and why is he about to draw it?” The answers led to more questions, so I just kept clawing my way down the rabbit hole.

  3. Beth says:

    I definitely hear a character’s voice when I write them. It’s difficult at first, especially when trying to show if a character speaks quickly. Slowly or pauses are easier.

    But on first person POV’s…my first manuscript had the wrong voice. I realized how important the right character voice is!

  4. sputnitsa says:

    🙂 Very cool. Thanks for sharing, Matthew.

  5. I’d say my characters come first, then their voice. I have a clear image of who they are before I start writing. But even so, they still change ( a lot) and reveal more aspects of themselves during the writing process.

    • sputnitsa says:

      Yeah, there you go. A strongly drawn character begets his/her own true voice, and therein lies the crux of my own protag problem…

      This weekend, I’m going protagonist diving. Gonna figure out their souls…

  6. sputnitsa says:

    Hey Matthew! Thanks for the offer, but I know I can find them, since they must be, in essence, somewhere in my mind. 🙂 I fully expect to be whistling happily in a little while, provided, of course, life lasts that long. 🙂 🙂

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