Talking Voice – Part 3: Character and Other ‘In-World’ Stylistic Voices

[Other entries in the Talking Voice Series: Part 1: Authorial Voice in FictionPart 2: Tone and Part 4: Non-Fiction]

For writers of fiction, character voice is often one of the primary things we concentrate on, as it is a key way to convey information about that character. Character voice – like overall voice – needs to be consistent and authentic. This is fairly basic, and comes naturally for most fiction writers, but definitely be aware of character voice as you are starting out and even more so when you head to revision.

Early in the process, character voice can be tricky. Characters can end up sounding similar to one another or a single character voice can get inconsistent. This is especially a trap when you’re starting a new book or story from scratch without an outline, or if you’re juggling a large cast of characters. When characters are in their infancy, their voices can have a tendency wander. Maybe a character starts out wishy-washy and indecisive, but in the next scene, they’re ordering someone else’s minions to assault the Queen’s castle. For a first draft, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if the character doesn’t coalesce by the end of the first act of the book, then it might be time to rethink the character or the situation you put them in before continuing.

Once that first draft is in the books, you’ll still have to go back and check consistency of each character and their voice. If a henchman that appears early on in a minor ‘yes, sir’ kind of role later returns spouting techno-babble, you may need to reconcile that, by going back and putting something in the earlier scene that prepares the reader. Or it could be a plot point: perhaps he’s been infected by your book’s techno-babble virus, in which case we can just be sad that he will eventually die of hunger and dehydration due to his inability to shut up about the latest warp drive model and complex encryption algorithms. Or maybe we shouldn’t be sad. After all, he could have simply washed his hands before returning to his henchman duties.

But I digress.

Okay. So how can you get a consistent character voice?

First, before you get deep into the narrative, make sure that you understand your characters as best you can. What are their histories and dispositions? What are their goals? Based on these factors – as well as the plot/conflict that you’re about to throw at them – you can create compelling and consistent character voices. Do some pre-writing on each character. Put them in a scene (one that also provides you with a chance to fill out backstory) that won’t appear in the book. This way, you can give the character a test run.

Next, think carefully about the actual ‘voice’ of the characters, the dialogue. As writers (and editors), we have to be actors. We have to be able to imagine character situations, reactions, and dialogue as realistically as possible. Talk to yourself. Run dialogue out loud with yourself or with a friend. Make sure that it rolls smoothly and naturally, and that it works with the situation that you’ve put your characters in. And make sure you don’t fall into the trap of over-stylization unless you’re working in a situation where it makes sense to do so: historical novels, epic poetry, fantasy cultures, alien encyclopedias, etc.

In addition to character voices, fiction writers often have a need for other ‘in-world’ voices. Sometimes you need to be able to write a fictional newspaper article or encyclopedia entry. Or a weather report. Or a technical training manual. All of these need to sound authentic or as deft a parody as you can weave (if that’s your goal). It’s not necessarily hard, but you have to absorb the styles and execute them properly in your narrative.

Whatever aspect of voice in fiction you’re tackling, awareness, commitment, authenticity are the keys.

Coming Soon: Talking Voice – Part 4: Non-Fiction

Welcome to The Refined Word, Editing for Everyone!

I can’t tell you how excited I am to launch The Refined Word.

No, wait… I can. I’m tremendously excited! Yes. That’s about right.

I’ve spent the last several years doing work like this as on an ad hoc basis, just taking gigs as they came at me, all the while searching for a ‘real job,’ which sounded to me like ‘real security.’ With the economy the way it is, and my insistence on trying to stay in the non-profit sector, a ‘real job’ turned out to be a mountain to climb. And then I realized that I didn’t want do the same thing five days a week. I need variety in my life!

I think that’s what attracts me to working with words. It may be words, words, words, day in and day out, but that, as it turns out, is awesome. Whether I’m writing my own fiction, or helping someone fine-tune a manuscript, article, or grant narrative, I always find myself encountering new ideas, exciting information or stories… and that is energizing.

All the world’s words deserve TLC, but there’s not always time to give them the attention they need. Send them my way. I’ll help you raise the bar on everything from press releases to academic texts and papers, as well as short stories or that War and Peace-sized epic fantasy you’ve been churning away at for years. All at great rates.

Why choose The Refined Word for your editing needs? I pride myself on delivering clarity and correctness, but with an emphasis on retaining – and even enhancing – your unique voice. I love the synergy that arises from easy-going collaboration, when ideas fly freely and a text really starts to show its power and promise. (And yes, even a simple press release or quickie blog post deserves to shine its brightest!)

But that’s not all. I’m certainly not turing my back on my non-profit roots. I offer special services and discounts to qualifying non-profit organizations!

I want to be crushed under an avalanche of words! Your words. Your friend’s and colleague’s words. Your kids’ school’s words. Your small business’s words. Your growing non-profit’s words. The words of perfect strangers. Just bury me in words, and I’ll edit my way out!

Give The Refined Word a try today!

(And there’s more about me here. Check back soon for a new logo!)