Archive for the 'Voice' Category

Aug 31 2011

Writing Distinct Character Voices

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

In real life, everyone talks in different ways. Their tone, timbre, rhythm and vocabulary are often influenced by region, race, class, profession, and so on. If your hobos sound like your professors, that’s usually a problem.  Giving all the characters in a story a similar voice is usually unrealistic and uncanny.


Some writers have problems with giving their characters distinct voices. By keeping several factors in mind, character voices can be diversified.


Word Choice

What is the character’s vocabulary like? It’d probably feel out of place for a hobo to start spouting words like “erudite” or “superfluous,” or for a professor to say “gigolo” or for a politician to say “sorry.”  This varies by situation (see below), but generally characters should use terms more believable for their level of education, intelligence and/or lack of any discernible moral code.


How does the character use those words?  Do they talk in full, long sentences, or in fragments? Do they use contractions, curse words, or made up words? Dialogue doesn’t have to be as perfect as the narrative text. On the other hand, if they go all the way towards following grammar rules that most people don’t even know about, they might establish themselves as pedantic/snobby.


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Jan 23 2010

Opinions Make the Character

Hopefully your writing sounds more interesting than this: “I called my agent for lunch.  I went to Panera.  I tried to find him there but he was late.”  This is just a bland list of facts. As a writer, it’s your job to make the story as interesting as possible by bringing in details that shake up the narrative.  One possibility is opinions.

In the above passage, the narrator doesn’t have any interesting opinions or any other thoughts about what’s going on around him.   He doesn’t have to be that invisible.

My agent was late to lunch.  Probably getting seduced by some cold-eyed harpy with a Twilight-meets-Eragon manuscript.  Sparkly dragon vampires.  He fell for bestsellers every time.

Notice that the narrator/author hasn’t said anything about himself, but he has shown much more about his personality and why he’s an interesting character.  We also learn more about the missing agent, even though it’s all just opinion.

PS:  If you can remove unnecessary details, like where they were meeting for lunch, please do so.  Alternately, find a way to make the detail useful.

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Oct 28 2009

Writing an Engaging First-Person Narrator

One recurring problem I’ve noticed with first-person narrators written by first-timers is that they tend to narrate their life as though it were a movie script with perhaps a few corny thought lines thrown in. 

I did X.  I was angry.  I punched Y.  Adrenaline pumped through my veins.  Man, that was rough. 

That’s awful.  Switching to third-person wouldn’t address all of the problems with this passage, but I feel it’s generally better at accommodating a movie-like novel with a relatively subdued narrator.   The only thing the first-person perspective does in this case is accentuate how totally bland and unstylish the character sounds.

First-person narration hinges on three critical factors.

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Jul 15 2008

Writing Tip of the Day: Avoid Bad Accents

Published by under Voice,Writing Articles

Just because a character has an accent doesn’t mean he has to ruin all of his scenes. This article describes how to keep your characters from sounding like Hagrid.

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