Have you ever heard a friend say something and you immediately think that’s such a “them” thing to say? Or have you identified a catchphrase that only they use or the way they use certain words and expressions that lets you know they are speaking even if you aren’t looking at them.
That is their unique voice coming through. Every time you hear “IT” you know who is speaking.
That unique “voice” is critical when building your novel. Each major character needs their OWN voice so readers can connect to them. When done correctly, voice not only conveys who is speaking, but it can also tell you lot about the character as an individual.
On a basic level think about regionalisms like the pronunciations of roof vs ruff or tomato vs. tomahto or soda vs. pop. Then take it to the next level. A girl raised in a very rural area isn’t likely to have the same dialogue structure as someone raised in an inner city. A 3-year-old will have a very different vocabulary than a 9-year-old or a teenager.
Giving “voice” to your characters can be a challenge that even veterans writers face.
This came up for me recently when I was reviewing a manuscript. I got to specific scene when I was struck by a line of dialogue. I immediately thought to myself “What’s that character doing in this scene?”
Turns out that character wasn’t in the scene, only her “voice” was.
How is that possible? It’s because the dialogue was in her “voice” and not the “voice” of the character who had been speaking.
Now, I know what you are going to say … but that’s why we write “said so and so.” The problem is “said” gets tedious when repeated over and over again in a novel. (The rules are different in journalism, please always use attribution in those cases!)
YOUR HOMEWORK: How do you know if your characters have a “voice”? Take a page from your WIP (work in progress) and ignore the tags (said Jane or said Joe) and focus on the line of dialogue. Can you tell who is speaking without looking at the tag? If so, then you’ve captured their voice. If not, go back and see if there’s a way to rewrite the dialogue using their voice.
I’m not suggesting every single line of dialogue needs to have this level of attention, but it’s definitely worth it for scenes that are crucial in your story and are at the book’s emotional core.
The more you work on this, the more naturally it will come to you. Good luck!