I have problems with voice. It seems that every character I write about has some aspect of my voice and my personality. I find myself constantly rereading chapters that have been written in first person perspective to make sure that the voice of the character, and not my voice, is coming through.
It’s helpful to have those people I trust read my work and give me honest, but gentle, useful criticism about my problems with voice. Sometimes I can’t really see the problem since all of the characters are ones I’ve made up and I admitted in an earlier post that some of me get sprinkled into their personalities. Other times when I read a piece a few days after I’ve written it, I can spot the trouble right away.
For those times when I can’t see my own voice overshadowing that of my characters, I need friends who will point it out. My critique group is really great about that. Those ladies are honest, but sensitive when pointing out my writing’s shortcomings. They haven’t gotten to the point of being able to tell me “Derek would never say it like that” or “Tara would say it this way,” but they do point out when it’s definitely me talking.
I’ve gotten better at spotting my own voice issues and figured out ways to correct it that work for me. So, here’s some advice from what I’ve learned:
- Before you write, create character profiles; know your characters inside and out. Even after you begin your story, revisit your character profiles frequently to make sure you’re maintaining character integrity. Your characters, just like real people, won’t say or do something that goes against their nature, unless they’re pushed too far.
- Have conversations with your characters. Ask them questions and let them answer honestly. Some of your beliefs may come out at this point, but like I said, our characters sometimes have a shred of us in them anyway. Just make sure your characters are “their own person” so to speak. And listen to them, even when what they’re saying sounds off-the-wall or outrageous.
- People-watch and listen to the conversations going on around you. I collect characters this way. Many of my characters in Echo are based in some part on people I have known. I will never betray confidentiality, but if you think you see yourself or someone you know in one of my characters, chances are you probably do.
- Wait a few days and reread pieces you have written, then ask yourself: Would my hero really act that way? Would that MC really have said that, just like that? If you’re like me, your characters will tell you, I mean really tell you, if you’re spot-on with the characterization and voice. They won’t let you move on in your writing until you’ve corrected it.
I’m certainly not an expert on fiction writing and character voice, but these suggestions have worked for me. If you aren’t in a critique group or you choose to edit your own work at this point, try my suggestions and listen to your characters. They will let you know what to say and how to say it. Usually.