Giving your character voice

Distinctive voice is an important part of defining a character, especially in the limited space of a short story. The pitfalls of this became all the more apparent when, in a crude attempt to make characters more distinctive, I used accents in a story. The results were questionable at best. So I asked people on the Writing Excuses forum for tips on writing distinctive voice. I got a variety of answers, which were all helpful but also interesting for the different approaches they took to a writing problem.

Some people approached the problem head on, as I had. They came up with solutions like word choice, grammar and pacing. The sort of tools I was kind of aware of, and should use more, but that can be hard to spot or to keep in mind when I’m in the flow of a scene.

Then there was thinking around the problem. The person who approached it this way suggested two techniques. Firstly, thinking about body language and non-verbal communication as much as dialogue, considering the character’s wider communication as a way of giving them voice. And secondly, throwing them into an argument or conflict to see how their voice works. Essentially writing your way into the character’s voice rather than defining it and then writing.

The third approach was to think behind the problem. Pick an actor or someone you know and give the character their mannerisms. This gives the character behind the mannerisms more definition, adapting a pre-defined voice from someone who evokes the sort of response you want from your readers.

These are all useful tools for writing, and I’ll give them all a go over the next few months. But I’ve learned more from this exercise than a few ways of defining voice. I’ve seen different approaches to solving writing problems, different ways of thinking that I can apply when looking for solutions myself. The head-on approach, thinking around the problem, and looking behind it.

Thanks to the folks on the Writing Excuses forum – edonil, Carcinios, Thought, Hodor and variety.of.passions – for sharing your wisdom.

Do any of you have tricks for defining character voice? Or particular ways of approaching writing problems? Please let me know in the comments – I can always use more inspiration from you lot.