Monday, November 24, 2008

Listen to the Voices

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 an authorblogger, Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and Chair of the Texas Book Festival Author Escorts. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of the novels Dismembering the Past and Angel Sometimes, three books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe.


  1. So true. You could so easily "show" that a character is tall by writing about how he has a view of the tops of other people's heads, or something like that, rather than telling the reader "Sam was tall."

  2. Seeing your character through someone else's eyes is an excellent way to let your reader know about their physical appearance, as well as their emotional appearance. I totally agree.


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