I Hear Voices, Do You?

Had a great time with some friends who came over for dinner (we ended up grazing, not really “mealing”) and I started to compare notes with another author in the group, Julie Cochrane. Julie, if you don’t know who she is, coauthored the Cally’s War trilogy with John Ringo. She’s very smart and has a lot of salient points that I always seem to miss.

We were talking about the author’s voice when she mentioned that some writers don’t know how to write in a distinctive voice. I wasn’t sure what she meant, since every author has their own voice. I’m paraphrasing here because it was almost midnight when we were having this discussion, but the gist of what she was trying to explain went as follows:

It’s hard for a writer to have different characters in the same book have different voices. Sometimes they just don’t know how to separate the military brat voice from the non-military brat voice.

I wasn’t sure that she was correct at first until I started thinking about Tori and how hard it was to write some of her thoughts and speech patterns. See, everyone has their own distinctive style of speaking. For an author, the challenge is to differentiate the voice between multiple characters. This is part of being a writer, that “it” factor, that deciding factor which breaks off from telling a story and showing the story.

I’ll admit, Tori was a challenge. Showing the flashes of maturity as she struggled with her own desire to remain a child was a task I didn’t think I was up to showing. Plus, who wants to be in the head of a 16 year old girl? That is its own little hell by itself. But as I moved on into the story, I began to see that Raul spoke differently than Tori, and different than Dylan, and nobody talked like Gavrie. Jade had a different inflection in her speech, though there was some correlation between Tori and her dad, since she did learn to speak from him.

Language is hard to show in a book. You often don’t think about the difference between people talking when you’re writing a scene because in your head, you can hear the deep, resonating voice compared to the gravelly one. But your reader, unless you make it distinctively clear early on (and that, sometimes, can be overkill of its own), tends to have all the voice run together since in their head, everyone is different than what you intended.

So when you’re writing, do you have any techniques to use to remind yourself to make certain that speech patterns and word usage is different between characters?

3 thoughts on “I Hear Voices, Do You?

  1. Wow… I thought I was the only one who thought like this. I have a couple tips I use when inflicting chracters ever since one of my friends pointed out how a prim and proper character of my fanfic spoke causually while a common man spoke with proper english.

    I try to think is this person a strict person, then their speech would reflect that or if they are doing something taxing then their speech should be short to save energy; things like that.

    Anyway, nice post see you next time.

  2. I sound it out, verbally. This helps a great deal.

    In ELFY, Bruno does not speak like Sarah. (Nor should he, though he can mimic Irish-American “dialect” fairly well.) No one speaks like Roberto. And Dennis the Dark Elf is a whole different kettle of fish — Michael wrote him — as is Lady Keisha (a character I wrote; in some ways, she wrote herself, though).

    Michael and I worked tirelessly at this because it was one of his major pet peeves. I still work on it, though I no longer have instant feedback regarding the Elfyverse though I do have some first readers. (Most don’t talk about that. They talk about major, glaring errors — not that I make many, and any I do get *quickly* corrected, believe you me.) All I can do now is remember what Michael told me and do my best to implement it.

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