Saturday, April 30, 2016

Naming and Framing: Your Character's Voice

Ever get stuck trying to write in a character's voice? When I started working on The Beat on Ruby's Street, I could hear the main character Ruby very clearly. That was a good thing because the narration is crafted from Ruby's point of view.

The other characters were sometimes harder to pinpoint though-- much harder. One of the toughest things writers have to do is create different voices for each character - and that means knowing them really well.

Sometimes, I found, I trip myself up by over thinking - and when I do that, every character almost ALWAYS sounds the same if they're not the main character. To avoid tripping, I started an exercise using three or four words to describe each character - just to gain a head start on their voices and viewpoints.

Animal, vegetable or mineral doesn't matter -- as long as you find the right words. And yes, this can be mighty challenging.

Some examples:

Ruby: jazz and  black coffee
Sophie: quicksilver, glasses
Gordy: ivy, ladder, numbers

Nell-mom: persimmon and burgundy
Gary Daddy-o: bass, oranges
Sky: morning, beard
Blu:laughter, swimming, red hair

Levitt: tight skirt, buttons, notebook
Officer Flo: uniform, pudgy fingers

You get the idea - but the phrases, of course, are just the beginning. The rest is up to you (and the character, of course) - and fitting a character around his or her name is just one way to go at it.

Once I have the name, what the character wears, eats, says and does usually start appearing pretty quickly. I also like to experiment with how each character talks and what they might do on any given day.

Sometimes they might appear “done” and ready to go, but usually they evolve, piece by piece and slowly, as the story unfolds.

That’s how I work it, anyway. And, so far, it’s worked for me. If you have a different way and want to share it, that’s great too!

Illustration: Jackson O'Brien Muenster