I laughed while reading an explanation of how to develop a character’s voice when the author of the piece talked about how easy it could be when the person had an accent. Please. That is not a “voice”, that is an accent. No more than if you had an Irish accent that your writer’s “voice” would be Irish. Might be, but not because you have an accent.
Why should your characters, at least your lead characters, have a distinctive voice? It is as important as their dress, where they live, how they were raised, what they drive, how they drive… but stripped all those things their voice still exists. Their “voice” incorporates their physical voice and more. It betrays how they think, what they believe about themselves and because of this, what they believe about everyone else in the room.
Character Core Values
In the same way we would work to make the story’s environment real, the characters need that same positioning. You can accomplish this with their actions, physicality, and how they express themselves in words. If asked, could you do an impression of your character like you could with your best friend or close relative, acquaintances from work or your favorite barista? They all have emotional and physical quirks that you may use to for a sketch, but after that, after you’ve noted the limp from the old football injury, how do you convey them if they are sitting down? In a bad mood? Feeling victorious? Trying to woo someone? Or angry enough to kill Mr Goodbar? Distilling them into strategic physical gestures married to pointed dialog allows you to convey subtle scheming to over-the-top bravado all while staying in character.
Let’s take a moment to try this out with a short 15 minute exercise. Here is the set up: a dialog between character A and character B. Feel free you use your own characters. Keep it simple. Action, dialog, alternated for ten couplets each for each character. A couplet being one action and one line of dialog.
A scratches his head like he’s trying to find a memory. “You got water here?” B points her cane at a bucket next to him on the floor. “Help yourself citizen.”
Simple as that, times ten.
Choose one of these categories to focus the exchange:
Conflict: Personalities or Regional/Social
Agreement: Based on Trust or Survival
Competition: Healthy or Unhealthy
Admiration: Well-deserved or Misplaced
Betrayal: Accidental or Revenge
Synergy: Old Hand Working Together of Accidental Discovery
Distrust: Founded on Fact or Suspicion
Cooperation: Resigned to Get It Done or Rooted in a Bigger Picture
Jealousy: Poor Self-esteme or Designed by Insult