1. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Discovering your character's voice

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by cutecat22, Mar 29, 2015.

    Similar to style, I guess ...

    I've not had that many problems discovering my main character's voices, their thoughts and accents are pretty much in place and came almost naturally from the start but I have one character (who appeared sporadically) in the first book but is set to be a bigger part of book two.

    The trouble is, I just can't pin him down in the speech department, I really don't know what he sounds like.

    His sister speaks Italian when she's emotional (for any reason) but I just can't see this character being like that, although on one occasion, he spoke to her in Italian because he didn't want a third person to understand the conversation. I think I'm unsure as to whether or not he would use slang terms.

    How do you figure out your characters when one just won't fall into line?
     
  2. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This might not help, but there's this website Speech Accent Archive where you can listen to different accents. You might not be looking for an accent, but if you listen to different Italians speak English, you might get new ideas, maybe.

    Maybe he curses in Italian? Like there're some Italian curse words that just work better in certain occasions?
     
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  3. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Italian language is quite unpleasant, in my opinion. It is very forthright and in your face. A benign conversation sounds like an argument.

    It might be quite interesting to transpose that quality into English.

    And apologies to any Italians reading.
     
  4. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Hey! None taken! Your language sounds quite opinionated! Are you a professor of language or something!?

    OK, OK, sorry for that, I could not resist. :p But seriously, sounds like you should do some research into the Italian language to get a better sense on how they talk. Are there subtle cues in words that an Italian would pick up instantly? Slangs native to their language? I also imagine the Italian language does not have one singular Italian accent, so look into that as well.
     
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  5. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    How much do you know about the character?

    For me, dialogue is usually the easiest part so this is a problem I don't have per se - but when I can't pin down how a character should behave, I usually delve back into their background, their childhood, etc. That helps me build a complete picture of who they are, how they think, who influenced them, what habits or patterns they picked up, etc. So for me, figure out what makes them tick as people ad then just let them talk - but admittedly I'm probably not one to give advice on dialogue because for me it's the one big part of writing that just comes natural (it's the worldbuilding and plot structure I need help with :p)

    It's interesting that you note he has a sibling - do you know much about the parents. That will tell you a LOT. Because while the siblings themselves may not have developed the same pieces of the family behavioral traits, they were "incubated" in the same house by the same family. I have a couple of family units in my stuff - the big one being three Greek-American siblings who were raised working in the family diner in Wisconsin. They all turned out very different (The eldest Diana is hot-tempered and had a rocky relationship with her parents, eventually disappearing and becoming a covert CIA operative - the middle kid C.J. is the most even-keel but was coddled and overpraised because he was the only son, but was kind-of a stoner and a screw-up through high-school, then finally got his stuff together when he got married and now runs the old diner - the youngest, my MC Nina, is precocious and attention seeking, benefiting from the fact that Diana's experience scared the hell out of her parents and made her dad realize he needed to be more supportive of his daughters...she grew up to be a TV news reporter). But the thing is, they do all have a lot of little things that are similar - for instance they all have a weird habit of drinking beer on the roof of their living-space when they need to think, because they all used to hang out on the roof of the diner because their parents never looked for them there. They're different people but you can tell they have the same root.
     
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  6. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Ok, here we go, are you ready?

    I've done a lot f the Italian language in both home but mainly from mc's pov as she slips into italian when she's emotional.

    From a family pov, we have mum, dad, sal (eldest boy) Alex, (middle child only girl) and Dante (youngest boy).

    Mum and dad brought the kids over to America from Italy just after Dante was born so 1980's. Although dad made a name for himself and plenty of money, he did it legally but his name can still be used to keep less legal friends of his, in line. He's traditional in the fact that his family wants for nothing but he believes women are the homemakers. He welcomed his sons into his business but not his daughter. That and the fact he wanted to marry her off to a nice Italian boy, caused her to run.

    Sal, on the other hand, is in love with the idea of the Mafia and uses his father's name to facilitate that. His father is aware of this but doesn't do anything about it because as far as he knows, his son's not hurt anyone who didn't deserve it.

    As children, Sal was the bully and Alex protected Dante. After a family argument, Alex left home at 27 to build her own life.

    So, sal chases he but she manages to get away, she meets our hero and they begin a life together. (Bear wth me while I get the lappy out, cell phones giving me grief
     
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  7. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    OK, I'm back.

    She (the MC) changes her name, gets a job and meets a guy. Turns out the guy is a DA. He can't and doesn't talk about his work but she knows basically what he does. At the last minute, she finds out that he's about to go head to head in court which a guy he's been chasing for a long time, you guessed it, her father.

    She leaves the guy without explanation and refuses all contact.

    He loses the court case and her father walks away free.

    So, he now chases after her and eventually gets the truth from her, he accepts her for who she is and life goes on.

    Months later, Dante turns up on her doorstep with a cock and bull story about her father - we find out later that it was actually Sal that sent him under threat if he didn't do it.

    So, Sal's sent him to do a job, burn down the stables and force Alexandra to come home.

    Dante starts the fire but Alex being Alex, the horses come first. She rushes in to save them and ends up getting hurt (among other things, she loses a baby she didn't know she was carrying)

    So Dante gets well and truly thrown out of her life. But, the fire brings her back together with her father who - because of what Sal did - finally mans up and gives all the evidence to the DA in order to convict Sal of a boatload of crimes under the RICO statute.

    A long time later, Alex and our hero, accept Dante back into their life.

    So he doesn't play a massive part in book one, but in book two, he's instrumental in saving the family (in more ways than one).

    But I don't know his voice. I do know that he's gentle and sensitive, Alex describes him as "the kind of child who would want a full funeral service if he found a dead bird in the garden."

    He also accepted his brother picking on him and carried on going back for more, almost as if he thought that by offering himself up, the beating/tormenting would be less that if Sal had chased and caught him.

    I can see him, dark hair and eyes, slightly paler than Alex, stringy, t-shirt and sweater with a hole in the elbow, computer geek with long fingers and hair that's not quite styled ... but I can't hear him, I have no idea what he sounds like or how he speaks. And it's bugging the crap out of me!
     
  8. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not professing to be an expert in Italian, I have simply been to Italy several times and their language and its delivery sounds aggressive and harsh (in the north moreso).
     
  9. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I have an Italian friend who helps me a lot with the language, slangs and pronunciation (or mis-pronunciation as it happens in book two - that's a real funny bit) so language wise, I'm not to bad, it's Dante's personal voice, sound and mannerisms that I just can't get to grips with and he's the kind of character that sits in my head shrugging his shoulders as if to say "hey, what you asking me for? you created me ..."
     
  10. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    That sounds like an interesting family!

    Off hand, I'd say you need nail down his mannerisms before his voice. Personal ticks and stuff. Also (if you haven't already), think a lot about what happened to Dante between the time that Alex took off and the time that he shows back up. THOSE are the formative years of his life. Where has he been, what has he done, did he try to get out? He can't exist in a very long story ABOUT family life if his own family life isn't defined, even if it's all off-screen, you as the author should probably know what shaped this guy.

    Personally I'd consider giving him some odd commonalities with Sal and his father - little things that clash with his self-perception but forever mark him as what he is...especially since it sounds like he stayed with the family and has a lot more influence from them where Alex's was cut off. He could also be (counter-intuitively) more self-conscious about his Italianisms than Alex - because Alex had enough distance to get comfortable with them, whereas Dante was stuck with it. Actually, he might even be really uncomfortable with it and trying really hard to be seen as ANYTHING but Italian because of what that means to him. I'd write him subconsciously slipping into Italian and then scolding himself or trying to hide it. Also I'd make any Italian Dante speaks more American accented than Sal or Alex, and make him slightly less proficient at it given his lack of time in Italy (how big is the age gap? How old were Sal and Alex when the family left Italy?)

    The other big question is which sibling do you want to compare him to most? Do you want to show him as a nicer version of Sal, or rather do you want to show him as what would have happened to Alex if she'd stayed? If the former, give him more of Sal's mannerisms, if the latter, more of Alex's.

    Lastly - one shortcut I sometimes find useful. If you need to, mentally cast an actor. I did this accidentally for my undefined middle-child C.J. (the big family drama is between Nina the youngest and Diana the eldest, and those two have a lot of commonality where C.J. doesn't always work the same way). The first thing for C.J. was that I subconsciously cast him as a young Mark Ruffalo - that defined all of his mannerisms and speech patterns immediately. The other thing was that I really dug into his role in the story, why he stayed at the diner when the other two left, his role in the family as connected to his parents, to Diana (which became a big deal for HER motivation), and to Nina. He's now a character who I like spending time with - to the point where his wife now has her own subplot (although honestly sometime she's more interesting than he is).
     
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  11. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    That's actually given me a lot to think about!

    After he set the fire and everything kicked off, he was sent to his Uncle (Father's brother, married, no children) as Dante had always been their favorite, until everything had smoothed over. And by smoothed over, I mean the DA ran with the case which was eventually taken over by the Federal Attorney and the DOJ who manages to get Sal convicted and sent to ADX Florence in Colorado for 90 years.

    (Age wise, at the time of the prologue, not long after the family move to America, Sal is 17, Alex is 13 and Dante is 4) so at the time of the fire, Alex is 29 and Dante is 19 (difference down to when birthdays fall and the date of the fire).

    It takes a year and three months for Alex to accept Dante back into her life, it takes the birth of a child for our hero to accept Dante back into his life but I can imagine that in that time, (with the help of Uncle Pauly, of course) Dante has changed. I would describe him as a follower, a people-pleaser, the baby of the family.

    Sal is really wicked, his mind is constantly on the go looking for (as a child) bad things to do, putting worms in his grandmother's flour store, not showing any remorse when he gets told off, even the local cat keeps away from him. Always looking for a way to make a fast buck or be at the top of the tree. Alex is headstrong and determined to prove that she doesn't need to be kept, this causes a problem with our hero who likes to pay for their outings, she puts a stop to that, but then can't understand when our hero gets upset when Alex goes out and buys a stable in the middle of New Jersey (with her own money) as he doesn't want to be a kept man. For our hero, it's all about learning not to mollycoddle and 'parent' Alex, for Alex, it's about learning to let another person take charge from time to time.

    But Dante, he's easily led, always searching for approval and to a point, will do whatever he's told to get that approval until he ends up killing his sister's unborn child. Then he changes, fortunately, the right way.

    In book two, he pays the ultimate price for his mistakes but not before paying his debt to his family.

    I can see I have a lot to think about with him, I can imagine him as a wanna/gonna/will ya person with his speech rather than a want to/going to/will you person, should I run with that and see where he takes me?
     
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  12. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Glad I could help a little.

    Seeing the ages pops out another big thing - you've got three very different pieces of the immigrant experience in three kids.

    1) Sal made it all the way to high school in Italy. Italy made him. He has strong memories of whatever life he had there. He's also past the point where speech patterns solidify - he will have an Italian accent and be very proficient in Italian.
    2) Alex remembers Italy as a child - probably the better parts of it without the garbage. She came over right at the point where speech patterns solidify - her accent is up for grabs but obviously less developed than Sal's.
    3) Here's your kicker. Dante is too young to remember Italy as anything more than blurry images. He is an American kid, with an American accent, who has no personal experience with the family life in Italy, and has NEVER had to operate in Italian as a first language. He's going to have a radically different self perception in terms of identity.

    If you want to see how this works in certain immigrant families - look up the family of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Kissinger himself came over I think in his late teens - he speaks with a strong German accent. I once saw an interview with his little brother, who came over the same time but was younger, and he speaks with a Brooklyn accent. Mental processes solidify as we age and things become harder to change.

    And I like the "will ya/wanna/gonna"
     
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  13. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also I need to introduce Alex to my Nina and Diana. They'd get along. It's funny - you're dealing with an Italian immigrant family, I have a Greek immigrant family, and while mine aren't criminals (and it was their grandfather that came over before their dad was born), the fact that they grow up as the third generation in a family-owned immigrant business has a lot of parallels to your mafia.
     
  14. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Sounds like they would get on well!

    For the most part, Alex has been kept away from her father's 'dealings' (even though they turn out to be more legal than illegal) but she has something in the back of her mind that's telling her there must be a reason why her name (surname) can put the fear of God into some people. At one point, she does actually use her name to tell someone who is trying to hurt our hero, to back off but then she instantly hates herself for doing it because she fells she's turning into her father after all.

    She also has a hard time accepting her mother's words of "he's a good man." Until he proves he is.

    I'm going with the wanna/gonna/will ya thing to see where it leads.

    On the Italian thing, their mother did try to instill the language in them - she never wanted to come to america in the first place as she was very close to her parents who live in Naples. She would ensure all three children got the chance to visit with Nonna and Nonno whenever they could but I do take your point that primarily, Dante would practically be american. I think this could be shown by him not always using Italian but using it on occasions where he either wants to keep his words secret from a third party or is trying to impress someone.
     
  15. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    All sounds like really good stuff!

    One small random point - you might have Dante speak his Italian with a slight American accent when he uses it. Maybe not much of one because his family and friends use it, but a small one. That could also give you some fun plot action relative to how his Italian friends and family view him.
     
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  16. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Good point! I know where I can work that one in, too!

    I think my muse is boarding her train from the middle of no-where and is heading back into my mind ... Your help is much appreciated! x
     
  17. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Any time :)

    Excited to see where Dante goes!
     
  18. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    If you want to know what I have in store for him, I'll pm you.
     
  19. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sure - if you want. It's an interesting project with some odd parallels to my own. And let me know how he develops as a character with regard to his voice.
     
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