Simply Writing | NEW YEAR Q&A

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Welcome to 2019!

Thanks so much for joining me so soon in the New Year. I hope you’ve had a fab Summer and are ready to face an exciting and productive year of writing.

So, last month we looked at what YOU wanted to know, and in this, my first post for 2019, I’d love to continue with more of the same.

This month’s a short post, with only one question from Marianne.

Marianne has asked:

I’d love some tips on how to make the different characters in a book each have their own, distinct voice.’

This is a whole, very long post—or series of posts—all on its own.

What I thought I’d do is give the quick and easy overview now and plan to give the more intensive answer sometime next year when we can really get into the nitty gritty of distinctive dialogue/internal thought.

Who is your character?

In short, when crafting dialogue and considering how your character sounds, it’s important to take many things into consideration. The list below is by no means exhaustive. I’m sure you could add to this with a little more thought.  

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Education
  • Ethnic origins
  • Religion and beliefs
  • Profession/job
  • Relationship status
  • Social standing
  • Era of setting

Think about the characteristics above and how they govern speech. Then, in conjunction with these, consider other factors.

Would your character use or avoid certain words or phrases? If your character uses the word ‘sick’ are they referring to nausea or do they think something is really cool?

Do they have a ‘verbal tic’, ie, a frequent unconscious quirk in their speech, such as ‘aye’ or ‘you know’. For example, when travelling in Asia I noticed that natives from Singapore tend to end their questions with the word ‘la’. Growing up in NZ, I often ended sentences with ‘aye’. It took many years—and quite a bit of ribbing from friends—to lose the habit.

Is English your character’s first or second language? Would they contract their verbs, or uncontract them? This can also be an indicator of age and/or social status.

Do they speak with an accent? This can be demonstrated in speech, but not so much in internal thought. We don’t tend to think in accents, lol. Just be careful when using this tool—and pretty much any of the other tools—that you use them strategically and sparingly. Overused, they can become jarring and off-putting to the reader.

Would they struggle over certain sounds or word combinations? Consider lisps here. Also, kids struggling with words, eg, ‘pasgettie’ instead of ‘spaghetti’.

What are the characteristics of their unique voice? For example, pitch, volume and tone. Think about how you can show this. When you have more than one POV character, this can be something their counterpart can notice.  

What is their unique personality and how does this influence the tone, eg, positive, negative, happy, relaxed, nervous, serious, uptight, grumpy, humorous, etc. For example, consider Eeyore compared to Tigger. Think about how their differing moods govern everything about them, including dialogue and internal thought.

Does their speech display a certain cadence or rhythm? This is something you can determine by reading your dialogue out loud. As a very general rule, women tend to be more verbose than men. That’s not to say that a female character can’t be direct and to-the-point. And, of course, this is another great way of showing how her personality differs from other female characters in your story.

Do they use any self-created words or expressions (neologisms)? For example, fantabulouso.

Do they occasionally mix up words (malapropisms)? For example, ‘for all intensive purposes’ instead of the correct version, ‘for all intents and purposes’.

Do they have any passions? Any interests or hobbies that may influence the way they view the world? This can particularly come into play when you are looking at incorporating similes or metaphors into your character’s dialogue or internal thoughts. Eg, Jayda, my heroine in Lethal in Love, is passionate about her coffee. Here’s what she thinks about the hero in one scene.

Seth looked as if he just discovered aliens ran Gloria Jeans. Not that the news would be all that surprising—what would aliens know about good coffee?

So much to consider!

I know this list must seem cumbersome and just downright impossible—and it’s by no means exhaustive—but distinctive dialogue is not something that magically happens first draft. It can be layered into your writing. Just get the gist of your dialogue down first. Once you’ve done this, and spent time inside your character’s mind and world, then consider how you can strengthen characterisation by tailoring dialogue and internal thought to match their unique personality. The more you know and understand your character, the more authentic their voice—whether in dialogue or thought—will sound.

That’s all we have time for this month! Don’t forget to tune in next month when I’ll continue to answer your questions. That means there’s still time if you have a question and forgot to post previously. Just remember to post your questions as a comment on the blog below to ensure I don’t miss them.

If you have a work in progress and want feedback on character GMC or arc or a sentence or paragraph that’s just not working, why not post it here? The questions can be as general or specific as you like. The more questions, the more fun! Remember, if you’re finding something challenging, there are probably others who feel the same. By posting your questions, you’re not only helping yourself, you’re helping others as well ☺

You have an entire month to post questions, until 5th February. So get thinking, and start posting.

As always, thank you to all my lovely followers, who’ve read and commented on my previous posts – either directly on the blog post or on the social media mentions. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support.

I hope 2019 has launched on a positive note, and that your writing skills continue to grow and strengthen. Have a fabulous January and I look forward to seeing you all back here in February ☺

Michelle Somers

Michelle Somers is a bookworm from way back. An ex-Kiwi who now calls Australia home, she’s a professional killer and matchmaker, a storyteller and a romantic. Words are her power and her passion. Her heroes and heroines always get their happy ever after, but she’ll put them through one hell of a journey to get there.

She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her real life hero and three little heroes in the making, and Emmie, a furry black feline who thinks she’s a dog. Her debut novel, Lethal in Love won the Romance Writers of Australia’s 2016 Romantic Book of the Year (RuBY) and the 2013 Valerie Parv Award. The second in her Melbourne Murder series, Murder Most Unusual was released in February 2017.

In between books, she runs workshops – both face-to-face and online – for writers wanting to hone their craft. The first book in her Simply Writing Series, Simply Synopsis, is changing the way writers craft this vital, yet perplexing, writing tool. And through her Simply Writing series of blogs, she hopes to simplify so much more.

You can find out all about Michelle, her adventures and her books at her website or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.

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