Not long ago, I wrote about Hearing Voices. Today, we talk about listening to the voices of your characters.
My husband, who is 6'6" often gets asked how tall he is. He usually answers that he's average, everyone else is taller or shorter. (Don't even ask what my 6'10" son gets asked!) If you were writing about a man who is 6'6", you might describe him as tall. But that's not necessarily how he would describe himself if he were a character in your book. That character might answer as my husband does. Or if an even taller person were describing that character, he might say the character is short.
It's not just a matter of what is said by a character, although that's certainly a big part of voice. A character who is poverty stricken would see things and focus on areas of his life that are different than a character who has plenty of money and support in his life. It's also a matter of how the character speaks.
Listen to the broad voices of your characters. Does one speak more formally while another uses slang? What part of the country or world is a particular character from? That can determine the cadence of his voice or how she strings words into sentences. What age is your character? What ethnicity? What sex?
While you're listening to the broad voices, pay attention to the small things, too. A word here or there can be very telling ... can brand your character. Does she say, "Howdy" or "Hello"? Does he use phrases like, "I need a facilitator," or "We were about to leave"? Or does he say, "I need someone to help," or "We were fixing to leave"?
Real people have real voices. So do real characters. And if you're hearing these characters in your head, they must be real. Real to you, anyway. They're speaking. Listen to them. Put them down on paper. Then they're real to other people.
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and writer. You can visit her website and blog, follow her on Twitter, or join her newsletter, Doing It Write.