Tackling Character’s Voice in 3 Ways
Which is easier: creating life or performing total reconstructive surgery where no vital organ or system is left untouched?
The nice thing about writing the rough draft was the liberty to write garbage just to move the story forward and find the end. Now it’s time for surgery. We’ll be hanging out in Revision Step Three: First Rewrite for a little bit.
During my reread, one of the things that stood out to me was the feeling that the main characters did not have a strong enough voice that easily identified them. I don’t want my reader to rely on dialogue tags to know who is speaking. The three characters I most need to focus on are my main character, the antagonist, and my main character’s sidekick. These guys get the most words on the page, so they better count.
There are three things I am doing to help me craft their separate voices.
1. Write a scene that occurs outside of the story. Stories generally start on the day when life changes for the MC. To help learn the character’s voice I have written scenes that occurred prior to or outside of the story, when life was normal, an everyday kind of conflict, an everyday kind of event. No high drama, just take a look at your character before their world gets turned upside down. I wrote a scene for my sidekick eating breakfast with her family the morning of the Great Fire. It was lovely and funny, and I hate that there is no purpose for it in the story, but it’s nice having this special scene just for me. It made me more familiar with the sidekick by helping me see her in her natural environment.
2. Change the point of view. My story is being written from the third person, omniscient to the MC, but not all characters. For a while my MC was not turning out the way I wanted him to be and, honestly, I didn’t really like him. I rewrote the opening scene in the first person and I really got inside his head. This naturally changed other parts of the opening scene, but I think it was all for the better. I am keeping the story in third person, but stepping out and writing “diary entries” brings me tighter to my character without so much of the author’s filter getting in the way.
3. Determine your character’s personality type. There is a lot of research that goes into writing. One of the golden nuggets I happened upon was The Myers Briggs Test. Four short questions later and I found out which of sixteen different personalities my MC fell into. Then I found High Level Description of the Sixteen Personality Types. What do I like about this?
- It’s fun – who doesn’t like to take multiple choice personality tests?
- It validated my perception of my MC, antagonist, and sidekick when I started reading their descriptions.
- It gave me ideas to consider to make their personalities deeper. None of them are the same personality type as I am. (Of course I took it too. How could I resist?) Therefore, I don’t think exactly as they would. For example, my MC is an ISTJ (Introverted Sensing with Extraverted Thinking), which the High Level people termed “The Duty Fulfiller.” In the research I read, “The ISTJ’s word is as good as gold, and they honor their commitments faithfully.” Well, I have a scene where my MC goes back on his word. Even though this needs to happen for the sake of my book’s pacing, the MC has to be really conflicted about it. AND the sidekick has to show the MC the value in the changed plan or else there is no way an ISTJ would go for it. A couple lines of dialogue and the text will be richer and the MC will be deeper.
OK – two bonus ideas
4. Raise the conflict. Every conflict the character is in reveals more about him. Keep making life harder for him and you will find out who he is.
5. Skip the dialogue. Once I start writing dialogue a scene can get away from me, a bit like chasing rabbits. Write a scene (with conflict of course!) but very limited dialogue. Stay close to the character’s thoughts, body language, reactions. You are most likely making this kid up, the more you know about him, the more you can reveal, the better the reader can identify with him.
What tricks do you use for developing your character’s voice?
I know you are going to take the personality test. I’ll tell you mine, if you tell me yours 🙂
Next time: Show don’t tell, using body language (I don’t know how many times my characters shrug and nod. Somebody help me!)
Enjoy Playing with Words!
BTW – I am attending the Wild Wild Midwest Conference with SCBWI this weekend. Of course they have the no blogging policy, but who knows what ideas will spin from it!