Monday, August 5, 2013

Losing Your Voice

In writing, voice is a GOOD thing, right? I know it is. And I am fairly confident I have a distinctive one—there is a me-ness to what I write that I don't even try for. When it's MISSING I don't do quite as well... in fact I'm thinking a lack of me might be one of Kahlotus Disposal Site's challenges... I need to get a little more of my voice in that book.

But right now I have a DIFFERENT sort of challenge.

For my serial, I have several Point-of-View characters... and see... if they all sound a little like ME, that's a problem because I DON'T want them to sound like each other.

So I am pondering the options to getting these folks to be just a little more distinct from each other... The ladies in particular. I have certain traits I have a really hard time letting go of. Smart. Ethical. Some humor.

But if all my characters are smart and ethical with a little humor... you can see what the trouble is, I imagine. Giving them different jobs and areas of expertise isn't enough. Giving them different quirks or neuroses isn't quite covering it...

Maybe I need a more complex character sketch for each of them... that might do it.

But I thought I'd ask all of YOU—how do you keep your voices distinct from each other?

The characters I'm working with at the moment

Sidney Knight

A freelance reporter from Portland, Oregon (raised in the midwest, transplanted in Oregon for college). She is smart, a little introverted. Worried about her brother (who works at the CDC in Atlanta) and outraged at what's going on. She is also intimidated by this giant task she's facing.

Sarah McGrath

Sid's roommate and longtime friend. A nurse who is a bit of a feminist, disapproves of swearing, is excellent in a crisis, but then typically has to have a mini-breakdown after. She's engaged and her finance also lives with them.

Dorene Radcliff

A Tulane law student and daughter of a senator from Georgia. She doesn't like to make waves—has always been in the political spotlight and so lives as if she's always being watched, which she is. Very classy.


And just writing that out, I think I've spotted one of the things I need to do... I am going to give Sarah some more spunk... nurses are often a little sassy—it helps them tell people what to do and keep order when people can be ornery. And taking HER from the middle ground between Sid and Dorene to an outlier who is just a little wild allows the distinctions between Sid and Dorene to stand out, too—because THOSE TWO are pretty different.

You people are really good at this therapy thing!!!


Old Kitty said...

I'm intrigued with Sarah who disapproves of swearing but comes across as totally fabulously amazingly complex - bolshie when she needs to be but a mini breakdown without cussing is just wow!

Good luck finding these voices - hey you already write under different pseudonyms (well before a certain Ms Rowling...) so I just know you'll find your unique and most NAKED voices for your characters! Take care

Theresa Milstein said...

It is hard to find different voices in our characters. JK Rowling does it well with the friends in HP. You could pull pure dialogue and know who's speaking. I recently read Wonder and was impressed by the different voices for each character too. I think it's okay to be humorous. But you can give different moves, quirks, and speech patterns.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Theresa's suggestion is good. Maybe go re-read a novel you liked with multiple POV characters to see how they are different or watch a TV show like Friends (sorry but my daughter has been watching that a lot) and see how the characters are different to help yourself craft yours.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Yes, add more spunk! All in favor of more spunky characters.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Making characters sound distinct is always a challenge for me! I like the idea for giving the nurse more spunk. :)

Maurice Mitchell said...

These voices are so different, yet familiar hart.

Teresa Coltrin said...

I don't think Sid and Sarah are the same at all. I get a different vibe from each. To me, Sid being a reporter would be more adventurous.

My nurse friends are very serious people. I think they depend on my humor to make them laugh.

The reporters I know (women) are spunky and seemingly not afraid to ask questions and get in your face.

I think jobs do says something about our character and sometimes show our passion.


Crystal Collier said...

Any time you can integrate opposing dynamics in characters, I say do it. Set them off by their extremes. Getting the voice just right can be difficult. I loved this idea I read in ONE of my many "writing" books about completing a 5 to ten page essay written from different character's perspectives before starting a work--to really get inside their heads.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Best I can offer is to let some physical attributes spill over into their way of talking.

Johanna Garth said...

I feel like I'd need to read it before I could give you really sound advice...

I want to say just imagine each of them individually and their voices will flow naturally, but I'm sure you've already done that. I wonder if you're not being overly critical of your work??

Helena said...

Maybe I shouldn't admit to this, but I don't have too much trouble making some (but not all) of my characters sound different from each other because I can hear their voices in my head. Which is kind of scary. What also helps me is making them come alive in a lot of other ways (all in my crowded head), and when they're fully formed they take over and speak for themselves, which makes my job easier. Like taking dictation. I should probably be on medication.

Seriously, once in a while I encounter a person who has such a distinct way of speaking that I later scribble down some of the things he or she said, and I find myself almost unconsciously using their pattern of speech in something. Which again, makes my head a noisy place to be.

Finally, Hart dear, having read three of your books I can tell you that your characters do speak for themselves, so like Johanna said don't be so hard on your work.

Jai said...

Choose an actress that most fits your character and then use their voice and nuances when you are writing.

Meg Ryan doesn't sound like Sandra Bollock kind of thing.

Good luck with the voices.

Nancy LaRonda Johnson said...

My first book had different POV characters too. It helped me to relate the characters to people I knew and write from the perspective of my interpretation of how the real people are. It took a while to get into that, but it works for me quite well. Writer’s Mark

Diana Wilder said...

I'm always happy to help!

Seriously, I try to have my characters firmly in my mind - who they are, what motivates them, what their quirks are. Test I have is to remove the conversation cues ('George said', 'Prunella retorted', 'Gebhard muttered'), print them up and hand them out to guinea pigs (ah, friends and such) and ask if they can tell who's talking. Or, to put it better, tell me if they are getting confused. Thing is, my characters don't talk with MY voice. They talk with their own.

Watching your progress with this project!

Diana at About Myself By Myself

Diana Wilder said...

Interestingly enough, I checked my email and found a post from Kristen Lamb's blog. She has guest bloggers right now, and one of them discusses her view of characters and how to get them to develop. She does what I do.

Check out the paragraphs under the heading 'from a writer's perspective', which is a good example of what happens with me.

(Of course, all this is me blathering and may not help you since you're powering toward your goal...)

Diana at About Myself By Myself

Denise Covey said...

Hi Hart. There is another exercise you can try to get to the bottom of your characters - you may have heard/used it - ask yourself, what does your character have in their purse? This always reveals a lot of character traits and shows what the character wouldn't leave home without.

Sounds like you're working through your 'voice' issues very well without any help!

Thank you for signing up for WEP's Vacation prompt. It will be lovely to have you on board this month. Will be exciting to see the many and varied entries.


Liz Blocker / @lizblocker said...

Oh yep, the complex character sketches really help me. But then, I'm a serious plotter, and not a pantser, so take that with a large chunk o' salt.

I'm revising a novel with two protagonists and two distinct POVs, so this absolutely resonated with me. I worked on differentiating their voices by thinking about how each one sees the world: are they introverts or are they extroverts? Are they thinkers or doers? Are they confident or insecure? The answers to those questions REALLY change the voice. An extroverted confident doer is going to describe a scene very differently from an introverted insecure thinker. (I know, those are the obvious stereotypes, and your characters sound way more interesting!)

And this may sound stupid, but YOU are writing them, so everything will just be a different way of expressing YOUR voice. Don't worry about that part. That's my advice anyway! :)