About six years ago, I took several writing classes including a year of novel-writing. The comments from other students included: “tense changing”, “dialogue too formal”, “not enough action”, and “data dumping”.
Dialogue is a character’s voice: About the “dialogue too formal”, my main problem, at that time, was I was not using any contractions (I’ve, They’re, We’ve, I’m, doesn’t, aren’t, can’t…etc). Contractions make dialogue more conversational and less formal. Also, with dialogue, who is your character? Each character has a different voice, depending on his or her age, education, region, interests, career, etc.
Let’s think about Yoda’s voice: “Teach, I will. Force, you Learn.”
Yoda Speak uses a writer’s tool called inversion. “Inversion, I think.”
In sentence form: “I will teach you about the Force.”
A writer’s voice is the way that you speak on paper, and how your words come across to the reader. Every writer’s voice will be different and you need to write in order to know your voice. A writer’s voice improves with reading and practicing and interacting with words. Writing my blog, Wings of Wonder, has improved my writer’s voice in short spurts and that voice is mostly informal and conversational. Other writers’ styles might include formal, technical, chatty, poetic. When I compose letters at work, the writing is more formal and professional. So, a writer’s voice can change depending on the situation.
It’s a whole different ball game to sustain my Writer’s Voice for the length of a novel. In a novel, you’ve got the narrator’s voice, each main character’s voice, and maybe a setting voice. And if it’s a historical novel, you have a time period voice. And all these voices are written by the same author.
Here’s a few suggestions for creating some variety in Character Voices:
Professor/Educated: Use long sentences; three or more syllable words (eradicate).
Young child: Use short, simple sentences; one or two-syllable words; limited vocabulary. As the child gets older, use compound words, increase vocabulary.
Pirate: might be loud or curse, have crude manners; talk about treasure and gold.
Traveler: Enthusiasm, stories, talk about airports, passports, destinations, adventures
Alcoholic or deranged person: slur words, sentences incomplete, muffled, repeated
New grandmother: Using baby talk, coos, Ohs! Ahs! What an angel! Precious!
Strong identity: Use of I/me; assertive, opinionated, active voice “I will do that.”
And maybe you have one of these characters in your neighborhood:
Curmudgeon: person, old or otherwise, who is easily annoyed or angered and who often complains. Dialogue from this person might be bad-tempered, difficult and cantankerous.
Yes, simplified, but I think you get the idea about how each character can be revealed through the dialogue that comes out of his or her mouth.
Back to voice. I’ve talked about how a writer’s voice can change depending on character or situation, but is there something distinctive about a writer’s voice that is recognizable as that writer’s voice. This may have more to do with individual style. What’s your opinion on this (you the readers of my blog post)? I’m thinking Hemingway with his plain, forceful, simple sentence style. And I’m thinking about Faulkner with his 100 word sentences and his range of technique, tone and theme.
Artist voice: An artist has a drawing handwriting, just like written handwriting. Pencil to paper, individual, and after lots of drawing it will be recognizable as his or her own. An artist style can be distinct: only uses black and white, or muted colors, or full color; specific choice of subject; size, shape, light, shadow choices. Again, there’s first the educational curve of learning about materials and techniques. Then there’s draw/paint, more draw/paint and you’ll want to paint certain subjects and choose not to paint certain subjects and over time your individual style will be recognizable. Or the artist may choose to incorporate images of feathers as visuals and maybe hint at metaphors.
Physical voice seems so obvious but here are some of the qualities of a human voice to think about: tone, timbre, rhythm, vocabulary, attitude.
Here’s one more character to think about:
Collector: has naturalist tendencies; collects rocks, shells and feathers. Also, has a shelf of jars filled with e.g. sea glass, buttons, sequins, small toys, and marbles. Collector of words too, words organized into binders filled with lists and charts. A word collector may also own a collection of dictionaries and lots of books.
Voice is birds song. Voice is variety. Voice is feathers.