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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Stay True to Your Character's Voice

Stay True to Your Character’s Voice


The voice of your character includes many aspects.  Would your character use contractions, or are they more proper?  Would they say "ain't"?  What about "cain't" instead of "can't"?Do they drop the "g" at the end of "ing" words?  Would they use words like "superfluous" and "salubrious"?  Would they use "heck" and "darn" or "dang", instead of their more frowned upon cousins?  Or would they say things akin to what the symbols in the picture above are supposed to represent?  No matter what the case may be, you want your characters to talk like they would actually talk.  While you don’t want to run your readers off with rampant vulgarity, you also don’t want to lie to them in your fiction.  If a character would actually say, “Oh, poop.” that’s what you should write.  However, if your character would use a word that’s a little more, shall we say…colorful, that’s also what you should write.  (As a matter of fact, Stephen King says the same thing in On Writing.)  We all know people who rarely, if ever, use a vulgar word.  We all know people that have such foul mouths we cringe whenever they start to speak.  And we all know people who are somewhere in the middle.  Your characters are going to be the same way if you tell the truth in your fiction.

And let me say this.  Just because your character’s a little old lady, that does not mean she won’t swear like a sailor.  We’re talking about the character and what they would or would not say.  Not all little old ladies would say “Oh, poop.”  One evening, I was around a group of people.  My husband and I made up one couple, and we were probably in our mid- to late twenties.  One of the couples was of an older generation, around the ages of my grandparents, between the ages of sixty and seventy.  Another couple would have been roughly around the age of my own parents, between the ages of forty and fifty.  The six of us were standing around talking and out of the blue, the woman who was roughly the same age as my granny, maybe a little younger, started talking about personal things.  Things that I know made my face match my hair.  And it wasn’t just the fact that my own granny would have literally died before discussing those things in what she would have viewed as “mixed company”, meaning males and females.  It was the vulgarity of the language she was using.  I was shocked because most of the people I knew who were roughly the same age as my granny talked like my granny.  They did not talk like this woman.  She wasn’t a bad woman, just very frank and vulgar.  True story.  So, get to know your characters.  Don’t take all of your little old ladies at face value, because they might shock you with the things they will talk about and the language they will use.

Don’t water down your character’s language if that wouldn’t be in character for them.  Likewise, don’t ramp up their language if it would be out of character.  You don’t want your readers to say, “They wouldn’t say that!  That’s not how they talk.”  Get to know your characters and stay true to their voices.

And please, please don’t add unnecessary profanity for shock value.  Please.  Just…Don’t.

2 comments:

Kristin Smith said...

Great post, Angela! I always enjoy reading a character who goes against the typical norm like the "grandma" you met who was nothing like your own grandma. I like it when authors shake things up a bit. :)

Angela said...

Kristin, I enjoy that too! Sometimes it definitely makes the characters more interesting. And I do have to say, I really like it when the little old lady LOOKS like she'd be in the kitchen baking cookies, but instead, she's climbing up the side of some mountain in the middle of nowhere, doing something like eXtreme skiing, or is a contract killer. :)