Giving Distinctive Voices to the People in your Head with guest Sandra Orchard
Hi everyone, Sandra Orchard here. After a long hiatus from blogging, I’m delighted to be back celebrating the release of my 25th novel with a post about voice.
Boughs of Folly is my tenth cozy mystery written as part of multi-author sets. In such cases, maintaining authentic voices for characters, that are simultaneously being written about by other authors, carries unique challenges.
When my first novel released, a family member said she felt distracted while first reading it, because she heard my voice in her head. Thankfully, after a few scenes, my characters took on lives of their own for her, and she forgot about me. But her comment made me ever cognizant of the importance of ensuring the “voices” of my stories are true to the story being told.
So, how do we do that?
First let me clarify what I mean by “voice.” Voice can refer to:
1) An author’s unique style of storytelling that characterizes much of his or her work.
2) A particular story’s narrative voice—i.e. the voice in which the story is told. Or…
3) The characters’ actual voices spoken in dialogue.
The best advice I’ve heard with regards to developing #1 is to not try. Some say your distinctive voice will emerge the more you write. But be cautious about imitating others who you presume know more than you. I’ve observed, especially with newbies, that in our efforts to incorporate all the seemingly wonderful advice we receive from critiquers, we can quickly dilute or lose the fresh voice of our original piece. I suspect this is because when you’re passionate about a story and write with abandon, oblivious to ‘the rules’, your unique voice is given full rein. Editing, on the other hand, uses the left side of your brain and can alter it drastically.
Honing this skill has proven invaluable to me in writing multi-author continuities featuring the same main character, including for Boughs of Folly. Now in theory, the first lucky author of a continuity gets to set the tone the rest of us must mirror for each continuing character. And Boughs of Folly is book one in the Jingle Bells Mysteries set. However, the three-book bundle, features long-established characters from the realm of the Chocolate Shoppe Mysteries.
So, I acquainted myself with all the wonderful quirky characters by immersing myself in the original series. The stories are set in Georgia, but the series editor advised me that authors were urged to use a light touch when it came to “Southernisms.” My goal while reading was to know the characters so well, that I’d hear their voices in my head. To that end, I focused on the distinctive nuances of each continuing characters’ voice. These are the same sorts of nuances you can use to create characters that stand apart from each other.
Tip: Sitting in a crowded place, such as an airport or shopping mall, and listening to the conversations going on around you is a great way to discover fresh voices for your characters.
Ready to assess the voices in your stories?
Let’s evaluate your characters’ dialogue first:
Does it vary in sentence structure? Some people talk in long run-on sentences. Some talk in short, disjointed blips. How about vocabulary? Does one character use few words, while another exhibits verbal diarrhea? Do some characters use big words or technical jargon, while others use slang? Does your English professor use perfect diction? Or do you characterize your jock by having him be well read and speak with perfect diction? How about each character’s grammar? Does it vary?
Do characters share the same pet words? They shouldn’t. But this might be the chance for you to use all those adjectives and adverbs, you’ve been trained to replace with strong nouns and verbs. Because in dialogue, your flowery character can be as flowery in her language as you want. Just ensure she’s the only one who speaks that way. Unless of course your sarcastic character chooses to imitate her.
If you choose to give a character a unique dialect, avoid tricky spellings. Instead, show the dialect through word choice, word order and sentence construction etc.
Finally, notice what isn’t in the dialogue. What’s not being said, or the subtext of what’s said or done, often characterizes the reader far more than his or her actual dialogue. In other words, what counts isn’t what your character says, but the effect of what he meant.
If you’re writing a continuity, your editor’s input is invaluable in keeping characters’ voices consistent from one author to the next, and the continuity guidelines will likely determine who the narrator’s voice or voices will be.
Quick tips for Choosing your Narrator
Whether writing in first or third person, the character you choose to narrate the story (or scene) has a huge impact on your story’s tone. In my romantic suspense, where my hero and heroine take turns narrating scenes, I choose the character with the most to lose.
In addition to all the elements of voice discussed above, other elements also come into play in your narrator’s voice. For example, can the reader trust the narrator? Do his thoughts correspond with his speech and actions? Does she have a secret? Is he hiding a sin or regret or deep-seated fear? The more you flesh out your characters with flaws, fears, secrets etc., the more you can layer their emotions into the narrative, so the reader experiences them, too.
Most importantly, have fun getting into character!
Speaking of having fun…
I’m giving away 25 books as part of my 25th book celebration. Leave a comment or question about “voice” to throw your name into the hat for tomorrow’s draw for a copy of one of my earlier titles.
And…enter the rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win one of 10 copies of Boughs of Folly.
And…stop by my blog to see the free E books and special price promos my publishers are offering as part of my celebration. (current limited time offers—Deadly Devotion is free & Identity Withheld, a Love Inspired Suspense, is $1.99 )
About Boughs of Folly:
Jillian Green’s holiday cheer nosedives when her great aunt’s friend, Herbert, is killed while helping them decorate for a fundraiser. But the case is more tangled than a strand of twinkle lights, and if Jillian can’t uncover the killer, Herbert’s night might not be the only one silenced this Christmas.
Boughs of Folly is part of a three-book Jingle Bells Mysteries bundle, releasing June 25, 2022, and sold exclusively by Annie’s Fiction
Don't forget to enter to win a copy of one of Sandra's earlier titles by leaving a comment or question about 'voice' below!