Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Hear the Voices

When you write a character, you try to get inside their head (yeah, I know I should write his/her, but their is easier). You want to hear their voice as they describe things, as they talk about their life, their feelings, their observations. And of course you want to hear their voice (not yours) when they speak. The voice that will be most prominent in your book is that of your protagonist, usually.

I think most of us know to have the character speak like him or her, rather than us. The words he uses, the slang, the grammar, the inflections, sound like the character. But we sometimes forget that when we’re in his head, hearing his thoughts or seeing what he’s seeing, we also need to be in his voice. This voice of the character, especially if it’s a series character, will become the voice of the book. Not yours. His. Or hers.

I’ve been reading the series by Lee Child. The main character is named Jack Reacher – the reader is in his head. I’m on my third Child book. I think I could recognize a Jack Reacher book even if the cover had been torn off and his name blacked out. I know his voice. Jack Reacher doesn’t look around a room and see things in long flowing sentences. He sees things in short, choppy sentences. He notes everything. He sees everything. He often describes things in sentences that have the same structure.

Here’s a bit from a character of my own. See if you can hear her voice. In this passage, she never says anything aloud, but you can still hear her.

I was supposed to have been a boy. Surprised everyone by arriving with a piece of my package missing. Sometimes God plays tricks on people.

Long ago I decided God was a woman. Only a woman would have such a weird sense of humor. Like giving Miss Aggie, the lady who sold beauty makeup door-to-door, a squashed flat nose and eyebrows that streaked across her forehead in thin slashes. Or the way God put my woods together – ordered, clean, beautiful. Only a woman-God would do that. A man would’ve planted a tire-growing tree or a burping bush.

Then last year, God took baby Celia, even though Mama carried her inside her for so long.

I’d been to funerals before. Grandpa Watson rested in a big, dark brown coffin, snuggled in snow-white satin, his head on a pillow Mama embroidered with a heavenly angel. Mary Belle, whose husband owned Belle of the Ball Dress Shop, had a fancy casket with lots of brass and hundreds of yellow roses.

I’d never seen such a small coffin. White, with baby’s breath and one red rose on top. I added a dandelion I’d picked at the side of the road, ‘cause it’s my favorite. I like to make a wish and blow on it so it scatters to the wind. Celia would have liked those too, if she’d had the chance.

Mama said Celia was so beautiful and precious God decided to keep her in Heaven.

Guess God doesn’t like dirty fingernails and callused feet. That’s okay. Now She can keep a better eye on Celia than She did on me. I’m wiry. I have the woods to hide in.

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