Author and writing coach James Scott Bell has a lot of great advice for newer writers. I’ve watched his Great Courses series on How to Write Best-Selling Fiction (which can be found via Wondrium, Audible, and even in some libraries’ Overdrive offerings) and skimmed through several of his books (The Art of War for Writers, Just Write, and How to Write Dazzling Dialogue), picking out little gems through each of them.
One of those little nuggets has to do with developing character voice. Sometimes I pick up books and notice that all of the characters sound the same. I can’t differentiate between the 70-year-old grandma with a love for baking and the hardened ex-con who just moved in down the street. Or I’ll read multiple books by the same author and every protagonist is a snarky, cynical, self-deprecating clone of the others.
I feel like it’s a trap that could be easy to fall into, especially as a new writer. We are so used to our own voices, our own attitudes and habits, and we don’t even question how they color our perceptions. And if we’re not careful, this can flow over into our writing. All of the characters sound the same because they reflect OUR voice.
James Scott Bell advises writers to create a voice journal for each character. You can read more about it in his books, but it’s basically a journal, or a stream of consciousness writing session from your character’s point of view.
Sometimes I do the practice like he advises. I explore my characters’ thoughts as they come. Other times I modify this practice a little bit. I imagine I’m having a conversation with them and I let them talk to me as if I were a character in their story. It becomes like a mini dialogue of sorts. It’s a way of getting to know them in their world, but as they interact with me rather than other characters.
This practice helps to envision them more clearly, to see their body language and expressions, to hear their tone and patterns of speech. I have some more work to do to fully flesh them out, but this is such a phenomenal exercise that I hope will help me to create distinctive character voices.