Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Unique Voices - The Basics

For my next novel, I'm doing something that I see in almost every Fantasy I've read: including multiple perspectives. This isn't new territory for me; Tsirash is written entirely from Octras's POV, but I've had lots of practice from my faery book and other unfinished manuscripts, numerous short stories, and even poetry. Anyone who could use a written reminder of developing unique voices for different characters (and yes, that means me, too), this post is for you.

Making every character sound unique is as complicated as it sounds--and at the same time, is not. 

We'll start with basic sentence structure, which is influenced by location and age. Someone who was raised in Germany would not speak English the way someone from Canada would. Nor would an American traveling to Japan necessarily know all their honorifics. Depending on where they were raised, a character's sentences would be put together differently. It follows that a child would have a lesser grasp of language than an adult (for the most part, anyway), and might make simple errors in grammar the way a student would when first learning a new language. Children are still studying how to speak.

A foreigner or child will likely have poor grammar or make basic mistakes that most adults native to the language wouldn't make.

Next we'll go into formality. If a character is brought up by the wealthy class, educated, or if they're just a nice person, they are more likely to use an elevated form of speech. For instance, my character Shenra is polite and formal with everyone, so she chooses words that sound respectful, and she never shortens her phrases with contractions or slang. However, someone on the opposite end of the scale, living a gritty, not-so-honorable, uneducated life is probably going to use gritty, uneducated speech.

Characters will almost always use the terminology they're used to hearing. Upper class generally means formal language; lower class usually means slang.

And everything is changed by the character's attitude toward themselves and others. Shenra obviously likes other people and treats them with respect because she feels they deserve it. My character Tsira, however, pretty much hates people, so she's either saying rude things under her breath or patronizing people who she believes "think they know more than her." Someone who is curious about everything will probably ask a lot of questions. And those who do think they know everything will probably look down others, and their voice will reflect that.

Attitude affects everything. 

Well, this is a simplified version, but really the only thing you need to know is your character. If you know them, their background and their attitudes, chances are, their voices will come through.

  • Here's a sample from Octras's POV:
Octras stared at his bag. “I hunt goods, not people.”
“That excuse is worth little. Haven’t you been in a league before?” Tsira's voice was frozen.

“No,” he said. “I never have.”

“Fine, go ahead and lie to me. That doesn’t change anything. I just wanted to tell you, I’m not worth the hundred ketts.”

“Life is worth much more than a hundred ketts.”

“Anyone else’s, perhaps. Not mine.”

Octras wanted to see Tsira’s expression, but he didn’t want her to see his. He was still angry. “You shouldn’t say things like that.”

“Don’t you do it to yourself all the time? I don’t understand why you even care.”

“Get out,” he whispered, putting his hand over his eyes. 

  • And one more, from Rael's:
Pain. It was a welcome reminder that what she had seen was real. Not some conjured fantasy playing out in her mind. The pain was real. She was real. Lost in murderous thought, Rael barely noticed that she was not alone. A Dragonkin she did not know leaned against her post, only a few steps from where she stood. One of Shosu's apprentices, no doubt, here to punish her disrespect for a Master of Aarii.

“If you're here to cut off my tongue, then do it and be gone, already,” she sneered.

The Dragonkin shrugged, holding his empty palms out. “I was asked to deal with you. How or when was not specified.”

Her interest piqued, Rael afforded him a second glance. “What are you going to do?”

“For now... nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Know your characters, so that we can know them, too. Oh, and happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


1 comment:

  1. I like your pointers on characters. I was actually thinking about this the other day with the story I'm working on. Sometimes I think that my characters all talk just like I would and that they all sound like me. It's good to stop and think about it.