Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's a matter of voice...

Writing a great story is more than simply putting words on paper in an interesting way. It involves the creation of characters that are three-dimensional. Characters that stay with you long after the story is finished. Through the eyes of these characters, the reader is transported in another life or another world.
But creating these types of characters can be a real challenge.
Yesterday, a friend and I were talking about just this - in fact, she is the reason I am posting today. You see, I am really into building authentic characters with authentic points of view and voice. I do this using a technique I adapted from transformation psychology - 
Developed by Hal and Sidra Stone, voice dialogue is a way of "getting in touch" with the many aspects of personality that lie within the self. In therapy, it is a way of putting to voice the dysfunctional aspects of self. Even some spiritual practices have incorporated similar techniques as a way of putting a voice those aspects of the self targeted for exploration or change.
With reference to writing, I use this voice dialogue technique to find and stay in the voice of my character throughout the writing process. 
So, what is the technique? For me it involves clearing my mind and "speaking" from the POV of each character. Try this - 
Write a letter to yourself (the author) from your character’s point of view.  This practice can unleash your subconscious creative mind and enable you to get in touch with your character more fully.  If you’re stuck in a scene, unsure of your character’s motivations, try this…ask to speak to that aspect of yourself (I know, sounds strange – but trust me, it WORKS).  For example, if your main character, is Julie, ask yourself to speak to Julie.  Tell Julie what the problem is, stay still for a minute and write.  Odds are really good that you will be able to release that creative nature again and write from that perspective.  (I have a friend that calls it channeling her characters – perfect…)
For the next couple of days, try writing from different characters’ voices in the first person.  Pick a variety of characters - the broader the variety, the better.  After doing this for a while, read what you wrote.  Does it all sound the same?  If so, you may not be speaking from the character’s voice – but from the author’s voice.  Try it again.  Eventually you will be able to completely stay in the voice of your character – regardless of POV, scene changes or plot developments.  As you master this, you will begin to create characters that leap from the page and give your story the heartbeat it needs. 
An added bonus – this technique will help you go deeper with your characters emotionally – much deeper.   
How do you find and maintain your characters' voices?


  1. My favorite books are the ones where the voice is so strong I feel like I'm there with the characters. For me, that only reinforces my need to create characters with unique voices. I like the idea of speaking to your characters to help push through being stuck. Great tip, thanks!

  2. My characters are often composites. Shh...don't tell anyone. When I get stuck I have a person in my head and react how she/he would react. It keeps everyone's personality and quirks straight in my mind. =)

  3. Great post! I've actually written in 1st person from other characters perspectives to get a handle on their personalities. It's really helpful. Another technique I use is simply having a "talk" with my characters. I ask, "What do you want?" And then write their "responses" in a notebook.

  4. Awesome post, Christine. :D

    My new process for characterization is very similiar. Without meaning to, while doing one writing exercise, I started writing in first person using my character's voice. I had started the exercise in third person. Somehow I ended up channeling her voice. Okay, that does sound spooky.

  5. This is a great idea! It's timely too since I've been worrying that my characters sound the same, especially since I usually write in third person. I definitely have to try this out. Thank you!

  6. Great points and ideas here! I gotta try me some of these...

  7. Great idea! A strong voice is really important for your character - it makes them real. :)

  8. Voice is so important. When it isn't authentic at all, this rings like a terrible death toll in the head of a reader. It also prevents the ability to invest in the story. No investment, no desire to read. You offer some great advice here. Thank you.

  9. When I read certain books, the characters' voices blow me away. I want to be able to do that. I've gotten better. I hear them talk to me as I write and give them certain special phrases which helps me find their voice. I like the idea of having a conversation with my character. Though it will probably make me seem a bit crazy!


Thanks for your input!