August 08, 2012
Playing with characters and voice
There’s been a common theme in blogs posts I’ve seen lately. That theme being Voice. The ‘how-to” and “what is it” of writing, crafting, finding the all important Voice. This got me thinkin’. How do I find, use, write, craft Voice?
Bear with me as I get a wee bit fragmented.
I’m sure you’ve surmised by now that I haven’t had any real writerly training. Not sure if you can count high school English as that was a looooong time ago. Not gonna tell you HOW long. HA! Anyway, I HAVE read loads of bits on finding Voice and how to make the best of it and all that jazz. The problem is, I learn by doing. Yeah, I’m one of those people who have to DO IT to get it. I can read instructions till I’m blue in the face, but until I do it, I’m lost.
So how does a learn-by-doing lass learn how to craft Voice? Depends. I firmly believe that an Authorial Voice will just happen. It’s like finding the perfect pair of jeans. You’ll try different styles on, but either the hips are too snug, the hem too long, the thighs too loose, blah blah blah… until you scream in the changing room. But once you find that elusive pair of jeans, it’s like the clouds part and angels begin to sing. Everything just….fits.
Now, a character’s Voice… That’s a little trickier. Characters have to feel real, speak real, laugh real, sigh real, burp real. I may have thrown that last bit in there, but hey, if your characters DO burp, it has to be real!My compadre Alisha has a great post on doing character studies here. Check it out! She’s awesome. And I’ve tried the character studies and/or profile worksheets. They work for me on the technical stuff like hobbies and physical traits, but I cannot (for the life of me) glean any sort of TRUE personality from a worksheet. It feels too stale and flat to me.
So I reach back into my theater roots and create my character’s Voice by ACTING them out. Yup, you read right. I get all Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino up in here! The basics are exactly the same: Who, What, Where, Why and How. Thank you, Mrs. Jordan, for beating these into us during class. The difference is in the implementation. Sure, you write out the basics (just like a character worksheet) but instead of the character coming alive first on paper, the character comes alive in YOU. They don’t just SPEAK through you, they ARE you.
How to achieve this sort of multiple personality disorder loveliness? Preferably alone. Writers are known for being a little off-kilter, but no reason to confirm it for anyone. *wink* Seriously, grab a scene from the mini-movie already running in your head from your new bright-shiny WIP and get into character! The scene is there so pick your character, whether it’s the MC, the best friend, the love interest, the postman, and roll with it!
The best way for me to Voice-out a character is to ‘play act’ them during the scene. Speak the lines, use the gestures, roll the eyes, flip the hair, frown with them, smile with them, cry with them! DO IT! I’ve found this to be the best way, for me, to get a real feel for my characters and HOW they act and react. Does that gesture feel right with that dialogue? Yes or no? While speaking in their Voice, does my character have a tendency to do certain things? Like rub their chin, pick at their fingernails, chew the inside of their lip? Yes? Write it down! That is your character. Does your character place emphasis on certain words while speaking? Do they have an accent? Do they pace when frustrated?
If you’ve truly gotten into your character, all of these things will happen, because that is who they are. It will come natural. And when you’ve found the first Voice, the others will follow suit. Once you’ve established how character A says something, character B will have a natural reaction. It’s a lot like reading your MS out loud, but with the action in there as well. And many times you’ll find that certain actions during the dialogue will solve random issues you have in your writing. Do your CP’s mention something feeling awkward during the dialogue, like John Smith’s chronic collar-popping? Act it out in your character’s Voice. Does it feel natural? Yes? Maybe tone it down a notch. No? Ax it.
Scared to try it? Don’t be! You already have voices in your head, right? Well, now give those voices legs, arms, movement and swagger. Let them LIVE through you.
Still nervous? Try a dark room. Then you won’t feel so “in the spotlight.”
Besides, if anyone asks what the H-E-double-hockey-sticks you’re doing, you can honestly say you’re REHEARSING. And dramatics (aka theater folk) have a worse wrap than us writers. *snortle*
Now go get your schizophrenic on!