I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I didn’t have much of an understanding of character voice two years ago. I’m an English graduate, and none of my professors in college really talked about it. I think I remember learning the definition in high school and reading it briefly in a few writing tips.
In truth, I’ve probably heard the fact that “voice is one of the biggest draws for getting an agent or editor” more than I’ve actually heard tips on writing voice. Since then, I’ve gotten to the heart of what voice is. Or so I think. You’ll have to judge for yourself. Here’s what I found for anyone who might be struggling like I once was, or anyone who wants to learn more. The stuff in this post is what helped me bring that elusive voice into focus.
First, by definition, "voice" can refer to the writer’s style, the narrator’s style, or, your characters’ persona, thoughts, speech patterns, and word choice.
Sometimes when people think of character voice, they think of first-person narration, but really, all characters have a voice of their own, even if they aren’t telling the story. To illustrate, here are three lines from Harry, Ron, and Hermione:
- "Don’t go picking a row with Malfoy, don’t forget, he’s a prefect now, he could make life difficult for you…"
- "Can I have a look at Uranus too, Lavender?"
- "I don’t go looking for trouble. Trouble usually finds me."
If you’ve read the books, I bet you can tell who said what.
Voice is made up of two things: What the character talks (or sometimes thinks) about, and how she says it. In other words:
What the Character Talks about + How She Says it = Voice
Hermione believes in following rules and frequently tells Ron and Harry to do likewise. She’s also very logical and intelligent. In the first line above, she chooses to warn Harry, and then explains, logically, why he should heed her warning. Ron usually says those comical one-liners, and his language is usually a little coarser than the other two, so his quote is the second one. Because Harry is frequently accused of things, he often has to defend himself, “I don’t go looking for trouble.”
What Your Character Talks About
So, What does your character choose to talk about? What does he not talk about?