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andyk

Character voice

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Does anyone have any tips, from WE or elsewhere, on giving characters distinctive voices? I've been relying on accents in some of my recent writing, but that isn't always appropriate, and it's easy for it to slip into clumsy. So, other ideas?

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I would say word choice and pacing are two big ones. Some characters are going to be prone to using certain words more often, for instance. Others might favor certain metaphors, or have a very polite/formal method of speaking (Timothy Zahn's character Grand Admiral Thrawn comes to mind). Another thing might be how many words they get into a set amount of time- you can imply someone speaking faster by putting down a longer run of words before a new character speaks up. Some characters will joke around, but only about certain topics.

 

For me, character voice is less about the accent of a character, and more about the words they use and how they use them.

 

Hope some of that helps...

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Accents are certainly tricky because the are so much about the tone of voice and that is hard to show in written speech. If the intent is purely on getting regional dialects then it is reasonably effective to describe the accent as the narrator. The lazy slow drawl of the Seanchan in WOT is a good example of this. It doesn't change the way the reader hears the characters voice but it does change their impression of what the character is like.

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I'd recommend keeping in mind that people communicate with more than just words. I'd say, part of a person's voice is how they'll gesture, what they'll look at (or not look at!), where they stand in the room, etc. A cautious character might hide their opinion in a sea of words, but they might also take the back seat in a room, cross their arms in an argument, pause before giving their thoughts, etc.

 

One of the things that helps me quickly define a character's voice is to throw them into an argument/conflict. How they try to assert control, what they think needs controlling, how they formulate arguments (or refuse to argue), if they'll invade someone else's space, all defines their voice.

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One thing that I've done is to base their mannerisms off somebody I know, or even an actor.  That doesn't really help with getting character motivations correct, but I've found that if you start from the outward mannerisms, you can often discover some neat motivations for characters.

 

My current story has an elderly priest, who, for reasons that I've developed, is often grumpy.  In my head, I started with Sean Connery from Finding Forrester, then took away the accent.  Now, I don't know that I've come anywhere close to actually sounding like Sean Connery from that movie, but I do know that he sounds distinctly different from my main character, and from my other characters.   I also have an antagonist character, who I really want to be obnoxious, so I brain-stormed my least favorite character from TV or movie, and came up with Todd Packer from 'The Office' or Louis Litt from 'Suits'.  I kind of meshed those two guys together.  So, any time I have these guys saying anything, I just imagine how these actors would do it. 

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I've had similar problems in the past. I have LOTS of characters, so I had a hard time making their speech be distinctive. Part of my problem was I didn't really know who the characters. Perhaps you might need to develop their personalities further.

 

From what I've heard from authors, it's almost amateurish to use accents these days. I'm pretty sure there's a podcast on this--I think it's in season 1.

 

I also agree with Hodor's method of basing part of a character on someone you know or the mannerisms of a particular actor. I did this with my own writing and it really helped me understand who my characters are.

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Thanks folks. Lots of good ideas, I'll give them all a try over the next few months. There were enough good ideas that I was even inspired to go and blog about this.

 

Now to go and write some dialogue.

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I have the most fun writing dialogue between different extremes (i.e. rich and poor, educated and uneducated, prudish and promiscuous) because;

A: differentiating character voice is really easy

B: the end result is usually pretty funny.

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If I’m not mistaken, there is a difference between “Character voice” and “Accent”. Voice describes a person’ way of talking so that you’ll know which character is speaking. I think it could be considered something like how a person sound like in real life.

 

Accent, could also help in recognizing a character, but if there are more than one characters speaking in the same accent then it won’t be as easy.

 

When writing a character, I tend to keep an actor in my mind, or a specific role of theirs, which makes things a little bit easier.

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