Writing fiction is more than simply putting good words on paper, or telling a riveting story. It involves the creation of characters that are 3-dimensional. A well developed character is one that stays with you long after the story is finished. Through their eyes, the reader is transported to another life, or another world.
The next few posts will focus on developing characters that are well defined, have a unique voice and add the necessary heartbeat to a story.
Some people like to start building characters from the base up – know what they look like, what their wants and desires are, etc. I tend to have a different approach (typical). I start with their voice. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the voices in my head. Not surprisingly, I literally HEAR my characters long before I see them or understand which story they fit into and what their role is. So, when I build my story – and consequently my characters – I always start with voice. Now, by voice I don’t mean the sounds they make; although this may be part of the process. I define voice as the unique actions and behaviors of the character – the thing that makes them WHO they are.
For characters to feel believable to your readers, they must possess an authentic voice that is unique – not a collection of used clichés (the abused wife, the enraged alcoholic, the scared and lost middle-child, etc). That is not to say that the characters have not experienced the things referenced above. Maybe they have. To be believable and riveting, however, they need more. They need to be as unique as the people we come into contact with everyday. They must be three dimensional.
To bring a character’s voice to life on the printed page, the author MUST speak from voice each time they refer to that character. This can be very difficult. Many times an author’s voice will replace the voice of the character, leaving the reader to feel as though the words or actions of that character are somehow disingenuous. Try this. Think back to the last book you hated – besides poor writing style or overindulgent world building, why did you hate it? Odds are it had to do with characters that behaved in ways that were not believable. They were not authentic somehow.
Staying true to the voice of the characters is vital to the creation of a rich story.
One technique that has helped me learn to “stay in voice” didn’t come from the writing practices I’ve learned in class or at workshops. It came from a combination of my experiences with theatre and the field of transformation psychology – method acting (or voice dialogue in psychology).
These techniques, though somewhat different from one another, focus on “becoming” something else – a character. For method acting, it is about finding the aspects of the character you are portraying within yourself and pulling that aspect of being to the surface – literally becoming that character. In doing so, the actor can create something so full that the actor falls away completely, leaving the audience to experience only the character.
Voice Dialogue is a similar process developed by Hal and Sidra Stone. Defined as a way of getting in touch with the many aspects of personality that exist within each of us, Voice Dialogue teaches the participant to literally speak from various aspects of the self.
Both techniques have a practical application to writing, enabling the author to consistently “speak” from another characters voice.
Here are a couple of practices that may help with this process: a) write a letter to yourself (the author) from your character’s point of view. This practice can unleash your subconscious creative mind and enable you to get in touch with your character more fully. If you’re stuck in a scene, unsure of your character’s motivations, try this…ask to speak to that aspect of yourself (I know, sounds strange – but trust me, it WORKS). For example, if your main character is Julie, ask yourself to speak to Julie. Tell Julie what the problem is, stay still for a minute and write. Odds are really good that you will be able to release that creative nature again and write from that perspective. (I have a friend that calls it channeling her characters – perfect…)
For the next couple of days, try writing from different characters’ voices in the first person. Pick a variety of characters – the broader the variety, the better. After doing this for a while, read what you wrote. Does it all sound the same? If so, you may not be speaking from the character’s voice – but from the author’s voice. Try it again. Eventually you will be able to completely stay in the voice of your character – regardless of POV, scene changes or plot developments. As you master this, you will begin to create characters that leap from the page and give your story the heartbeat it needs.
An added bonus – this technique will help you go deeper with your characters emotionally – much deeper.
Try these techniques and tell me how it goes…I love hearing from people.
Next time we’ll cover the character’s world and how to start building a character from scratch…
Until then, happy writing.