1. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    Character 'Voice' References

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ian J., Dec 5, 2012.

    I've done a cursory search on the forums here and on Google, but couldn't find something along the lines of what I wanted. Can anyone point me in the direction of threads, internet articles or books that cover character 'voice' in reasonable detail, preferably at least to the point of illustrating what the known elements of 'voice' are, with examples? Ideally some kind of good quality coherent reference book dealing specifically with the subject of character 'voice' would be best.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there is character voice and author voice...

    if you really want to know about a character's that's dependent only on the persona of the character you have created... is it a man or a woman?... where do they come from?... what social level do they inhabit?... what mood are they in?

    on the other hand, an author's voice is developed over a period of time and consists of the style in which the author writes... some are quite formal, while others are very casual... and many are somewhere in between... take tom clancy and dean koontz, for one example... read a page or two of each of their works and you'll see how their voices differ from one another...

    i don't know of any reference/how-to books on either 'voice'... have you googled?
     
  3. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Read different third and first person books. Study what words the authors uses in his or her voice. First person books also shows how the main character talks, think, and react to other characters. Study how they talk and how they view their world.
     
  4. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    I've Googled, but only found general blogs that just say 'read and study what other people have done', or give a few ideas of techniques to use but don't show appropriateness of usage of those techniques. I really would like to find an authoritative work from someone who knows the details of what makes up a 'voice', and how those details can be most appropriately used. I find when trying to figure it out from other authors' works that I just don't really know what to look for.

    (Specifically I'm interested in character voice. Whatever my author voice, it will just be what it will be.)
     
  5. Cynglen
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    Cynglen Senior Member

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    I really don't know if there are any true studies on the development of character voices. Like Mamma said, it really depends on who the person is, background, social groups, attitude, company, etc. Mark Twain is famous for portraying true Southern voice in his books, and I also think older books from Europe where characters from different countries come into the story are good for seeing how you can characterize people by their speech.

    For specifically working on your own voice, my best suggestion is writing dialogues/conversations featuring your character(s) and whoever they are interacting with. Putting them in a variety of situations will help you figure out how they think and what they would say to this or that event.

    If you can find someone who's written officially about this stuff, please let us know too.
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Read E.M. Forster's "A Passage to India". He does a brilliant job of laying out British, Hindu and Muslim voices, as well as points of view.
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    As a counterexample to Ed's suggestion, read Alistair MacLean's Athabasca. The heroes of that book were Texans, but you'd never know it from their dialogue. They sounded as British as the heroes of any of MacLean's books. MacLean may have known how to write exciting scenes, but he was clueless when it came to authenticity of voice or individuality of character.

    You might want to check out The Sound on the Page: Great Writers Talk About Style and Voice in Writing, by Ben Yagoda.
     
  8. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    My impression of Yagoda's book from the reviews on Amazon suggest he's covering author voice, rather than character voice. I'm not sure it would be of much use to me in that respect. I'll see if I can get hold of a copy sufficiently cheaply so as not to waste money if that is indeed the case.

    To Ed (and to a far lesser extent Cynglen), like the others here you're still saying 'go and read someone else's work and study it', but there's no point in me studying examples of any work without knowing what it is I'm actually looking for. If I do find a book or other work which goes into the subject in decent detail, then I will certainly let others know because it seems to be something lacking for us writers when just about every other self-help writing subject has been covered ad nauseum.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Well, Ian, the reason for that is simple. As Mammamaia said, the voice you are talking about springs from the nature of the character and your ability to portray the details that make that character unique. As far as I know, there is no "how to" manual for that, and frankly I wouldn't trust anything that purported to be. Delderfield's Welsh stationmaster is very different from Lee's Southern preacher, and they are both quite different from Michener's wonderful Quebecois trapper, Pasquinel. I pointed you toward Forster's work because he presents three competing persona's, each representing a POV that is equally antagonistic to the other two, and all in one novel. If you have a talent for writing, you will know what you're looking for when you see it.
     
  10. Cynglen
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    Cynglen Senior Member

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    An official stamp is always nice, but you'll never learn in theory as well as you will by finding and learning from examples, even if you don't know exactly what you're looking for.
     
  11. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    I'm not exactly sure what better resource you would have, that resource being other authors. If you read a broad range of authors, you'll see different voices throughout. Otherwise, Hemingway would be Fitzgerald, and Thompson would be Doyle, and Maugham would be Poe, and Poe would be Bradbury.

    If you haven't caught on yet, every author would read and sound the same, but they all differ vastly. It's in wordchoice, and syntax, and tone, and what similes they like to use frequently, or ones they don't. What cliches some may stick in, if any, because it reflects the speech of their time period, and which cliches of their time period you can see they avoid using.

    The character's voice is obvious. What makes your voice different from that of your friends? Or how about in the way your father or mother speaks to you, versus how they speak to their friends, or strangers even?

    As mamma said, personality, situation, and mood, all factor in determining a character's voice, whereas the Author's voice is unique, for it's the way he personally communicates to the world.
     
  12. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    That's about the sum of it.
     
  13. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    Sorry, still not helping. I'm not interested in author voice, only character voice, and I do believe there must be general techniques for linking the personality, mood, and other character traits to their speech patterns. The one I do know about is educational level - a poorly educated person is likely to have a smaller vocabulary than a well educated person, and is also likely to use more slang, and different grammar patterns. But a good treatise on how these things come out still eludes me.

    I wonder if I might need to think a little more laterally (not a strong point of mine). What I'm looking for may exist in a non-writing context as an academic work, maybe regarding language and how different social classes use it? Maybe I need to look for linguistic/sociology works instead of literary/writing works :$

    Edit: Found this wikipedia article that seems to be at least a starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociolinguistics Sociolinguistics seems to be academic area I'm in need of as if the article is even roughly right it's covering all sorts of variations based on educational level, social group, aspiration, etc.
     
  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    That's because you're not listening. Which seems to be the crux of the problem.

    Yes, I got that. Addressed it, too.

    The "general technique" is really the essence of character creation. And it isn't just about speech. It's inherent in the way your characters think and act, what they feel.

    You never heard a well-educated person talk like a street person? In order to gain greater social acceptance? Or a person with little formal education speak with elegant simplicity to express profound thoughts (thinking of my maternal grandfather, here)? Delderfield and Trollope used speech patterns to portray a person's class and geographical origin, but it wasn't a simple matter of "pick an accent, get a character". The proof of that is in Shaw's play, "Pygmalion", which, come to think of it, may be the most important thing you could read right now.

    The essential truth here, and the one you seem determined not to accept, is that you could become the world's foremost expert in sociolinguistics, or speech pathology, or anthropology, and it wouldn't make you a better writer. It would not make your characters any more compelling. And that's why the answer to your problem lies, not in science, but in literature. Ask yourself: "Of all the characters I've met in my readings, who have been the most compelling? Why?"

    But be forewarned: there is no objective, empirically verifiable, logically correct, academically knowable answer.
     
  15. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    You will have to know your character(s) inside and out. Rather from learning for a book or google I suggested you listen to people, go somewhere were you will be surrounded by people from all background, take notes of their inflections - how they string their words together- in groups of three - do they pause for dramatic effect, do they stutter, or curse a lot etc. How they carry themselves, are they hunched or walk straight, speculate who these people are just by listening to their conversations. I take inspiration for my fictional characters from people I know or knew or discover interesting strangers in the shopping centre/mall or out and about in my daily life. The only way to create people is to mix with them in real situations, become an investigator or watcher of your fellow man.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    listen to ed, ian... he's said it all for me... i mentor and tutor aspiring writers and all he says is true...

    if you want to be a fiction writer, study fiction writers' writings, not scholastic works...
     
  17. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    I have to apologize for something that most if not all of you are experiencing - the 'infuriation with Ian' problem. So many other people (not least all the teachers I ever had in school or college) have tried to communicate to me by trying to get me to learn the way other pupils/students learn - but the regular teaching techniques never worked for me. I have a problem which is that I need to know the mechanics of why something works, not just that if I do 'x', then 'y' will happen, before I can understand and use it. I was like that with learning to drive - I had to know the mechanics of the engine, how it connected to the gearbox and how the clutch worked, before I could drive properly. Up 'til then, the driving instructor just couldn't figure me out. Similarly with computer coding, even at my basic level, I had to know something of how computer memory and CPU instructions worked before I could code with any degree of confidence.

    In relation to character voice, I need to find my own way to grasp the underlying influences on speech before I can begin to understand why a particular person/character speaks the way they do. As I read through that wikipedia article on sociolinguistics, I could feel that I was onto something that would help me, that in that academic subject is the link in the chain I needed. It certainly won't help everyone, and even for me it is only the beginning of my understanding, but it is part of how I will figure this out.
     
  18. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Having a son with learning issues, I can sympathize. But you strike me as someone intelligent enough to understand that knowing the mechanics of the engine is completely unrelated to what you need to learn to do in order to be able to drive - that the skills required for driving are not in any way related to what makes an engine function (as is proven by the verfiable fact that billions of people make perfectly competent drivers without having any understanding of mechanics, and that people who are engine experts do not, as far as I know, comprise a superior class of drivers). And I am sure that when you were studying up on automobile engine mechanics, you accepted that after that you would still have to learn how to control a vehicle, what the traffic laws were, what safety requirements needed to be met, etc, before you could complete the task of learning how to drive.

    This is not to try to deter you from what you have determined to do. As the saying goes, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." But understand that once you have acquired the knowledge that you feel is a necessary prerequisite, you will still need to do the necessary work to know how to write well. And that is what has already been stated above.

    BTW, you don't have to answer if you don't want to, but I really would be interested to know what character from what book you have found the most compelling or interesting. Just curious.

    Good luck.
     
  19. Fivvle
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    Fivvle Contributing Member

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    And the question was about character voice.
     
  20. Cynglen
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    Cynglen Senior Member

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    Same idea as what Ian said. If knowing how/why we speak the ways we do helps you write characters better, then go for it. You'll know what you're looking for when you see it, but I'd say give the list on the right-hand side of the aforementioned Wiki article a thorough browse if you weren't already doing so. Between all those articles on linguistics and the dozens of links they'll send you to, I sure hope you can learn enough to satisfy.
     
  21. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Character's can speak as different as there are snowflakes, but it they're not compelling it doesn't matter one whit. In fact, they can sound somewhat the same, and still be one the reader can pick out due to their likability or how much they're hated. So, it's not the character voice that matters. It's the character that does.
     
  22. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    Ed, re the most compelling character from a book, I'll have to think on that a while. No singular example jumps to mind immediately.

    I know that a delve into sociolinguistics is only a start, I will have to follow that up with studying how it's applied by authors, particularly those authors I engage with.

    The thing about my learning is a peculiar one. I never properly grasp how to do something without knowing something of how the underlying mechanics work. I think it might come from what I believe to be my 'balanced brain' - one with a roughly equal balance of left and right hemisphere capability, meaning I'm neither strongly creative nor strongly ordered but a mix of both - with the confusion that can go with that.

    But I'm sounding pseudo-sciencey. I will shut up now and see where I get with the sociolinguistics thing :)

    Agreed, in part. I feel that a character is what they do and what they think, and as others and you have said, how we know a character, and whether we like them or not, is down to more than just their words. But what I'm specifically after here is an understanding of the character's external and internal spoken words and how those might be affected by who they are, where they're from, who they're talking to. It's about trying to find those subtle differences in their speech that, combined with everything else that they are, can improve the feeling of their authenticity.

    I think the most relevant section is on Variation (linguistics) here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variation_%28linguistics%29, and the likely best work to read up on seems to be J.K. Chambers' 'Sociolinguistic Theory: Linguistic Variation and its Social Significance'. I imagine it will be something of a dry read, but it sounds like the primer I'm looking for.
     
  23. Webster
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    Webster Senior Member

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    This is a problem that can't be addressed in a formal manner. Part of the joy when writing is assuming the identity of your narrator and characters. It's a matter of touch and finesse, intuition. Consider method acting... The actor sublimates his\her personality as totally as possible in order to bring forth their vision of their given role. Now try to apply this concept to writing stories...

    It sounds like you might be trying to force yourself to write a character you're not really into. If it's simply not knowing what their, err, speech artifacts (?) are, just do research into their occupations,etc, and maybe study texts on psychology in order to better define their personality type. Don't know, to be honest. Really doesn't seem to me to be something you can Google, so to speak.
     

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