A Character's Voice

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A Character's Voice

#1 Post by Neeka » Mon Jul 24, 2017 12:51 pm

Hello everyone! I have a problem on truly developing a character's voice. I typically write in first or third point of view. I have developed well rounded characters but they seem rather stiff when I write the draft, including the main character.

Here's an example of an 'okay' voice:

What am i? Who knows. There aren't many of my kind left. Don't get me wrong, that doesn't make us rare by any means. we're just dying out. our breed has seen it's final chapter. we'll probably be non-existent in another hundred years or so. i'm not saddened by it. similar things have happened in the past.
besides, i have my own problems to worry about. what happens in a hundred years is not my concern. i'll hopefully be in a well dug grave by then. deep enough so wild dogs or scavengers don't dig me up.
was i always this pessimistic? no, that's not the right word. hmm...either way, I don't have time to worry about it. i'm sure I'll think of it in a few hours if i remember at all.
Time for work. Yes, yours truly has a job. nothing glamorous, but that's to be expected in this city. I run errands. a delivery boy of sorts. except whatever is in the package changes each time. cheap takeout for room 203. a half-soaked gooey box for the creeps in the garage across from the supermarket. and a live animal of sorts for a ghoul, most likely dinner.


Here's an example of a rather stiff narrative:

Thump, thump, thump.
(A drum?)
The thumping continued, even after realizing it was a pounding in my head.
A: Oof.
I sat up, taking in my surroundings. The sky was white, light silver as the world slowly awoke. I was laying on the stone path next to the base of a tree.
Remebering what happened I gripped my head. What could have caused all of that? A flash of the rabbit returned, followed by me digging around in a bush. So is that a plant that has hallucinagenic affects? I looked over my hands, no marks visible except for small scratches from the tree.
Despite still being in the garden I was relieved. My nightmare was over. Now I could find the exit. I stood up, brushing off the back of my dress. The morning air was cool, a thin fog clinging to the earth. The world was quiet, still asleep. Only the chirps of a few birds existed along with my uneasy footsteps.


A lot of my drafts sound like the second example. Granted, things liven up when dialogue is present but my main characters start to feel the same despite being from wildly different stories. I'm afraid they become flat characters once the draft begins. Their narrative isn't all that unique or interesting, it's as if their existence is to move the plot along and nothing else.

If you have any advice or constructive critique I'd appreciate it. Thanks!

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Re: A Character's Voice

#2 Post by Mammon » Mon Jul 24, 2017 5:29 pm

If you feel like your main characters are all alike, then they're probably all of the 'blank slate MC' variety I assume? Characters with little defining personality and opinions that act as a conduit for the reader because their lack of features conflicting with the reader's personality are rare or insignificant. The MC doesn't have many of such facets after all. The situation may define their 'extreme situation' personality where the actions seem compliant or based upon the situation. If you wake up in a dungeon, of course your motivation will be to find our where you are and how to escape, but that's a rather extreme situation where your own personality barely comes into account. The MC's everyday personality is undefined and bland.

The answer that you'll probably will get several times around Lemmasoft on the matter is that there's no need to have such a character. Your protagonist may have a very defined character, the people around here will like them more for it. Make a character that doesn't have a few traits that don't interfere with anyone or anything at all, those are boring and already a dime a dozen in mainstream stories. Make a main character an unique character, even if that might be an unlikeable character or one that won't lie well with your entire audience.

From the mention of 'the rabbit' I assume that the second excerpt was from your Alice in Neverland story. Alice feels like a MC just like all the others you wrote about? A mere conduit for the plot to go through? Then try to create a more defined and plot-problematic character and when that person does something, make sure it's according to their personality.

Alice here seems like she just escapes from Wonderland and that she did not enjoy the experience (even though she doesn't remember it). I don't know your character or plot, but I'll make some assumptions for an example. (Intentionally extra conflicting and problematic, not meant as me telling what you should do with your character but an example.) That example will assume that Alice doesn't want any more of whatever happened to her before. She is done with adventure and will try to avoid more of it if she can. I don't mean that she's the stereotypical 'I don't want to be the saviour of this story, oh wait suddenly I am' type, but that she's actively trying to stay out of trouble throughout the story. Her personality, through the previous adventure, is shaped to be more cautious and evasive.
-She is living her 'ordinary life' and things seem strange. She is not going to investigate them or as much as doubt them. She'll pretend everything is normal again rather than prying into the oddities.
-She sees the white rabbit, and won't just ignore him or listen to what he has to say. She'll try to hide and avoid him because hiding is now her first thought when trouble hasn't found her yet.
-An clearly evil character gives her the 'give up your friends and I'll let you go' scenario. Alice, unlike what is expected of a MC, complies so they'll leave her alone. It might not be the right thing to do, but she doesn't want to be sucked into the nightmare again. She's not going to be a hero for the sake of what's the right thing to do maybe.
-The moment is there that she cannot avoid the plot any more, but she will anyway. She'll run away, leave the country if she has to. If she can run, at least from her perspective, she will.

This might be conflicting with the story, in fact I assume it is. But that's good. The story will have to adapt to the MC, rather than the other way around. Make a plot, then make a character that fits in the story, then as you're writing your draft you'll make sure to keep the character's personality in mind. Her dialogue in every conversation will be evasive rather than intrigued or asking further. Her actions will be trying to keep the status quo rather than changing things. That will force the plot to change to the needs of the character to actually fulfill her plot-relevant actions, make sure not to do it the other way around.

Again, this is a rather harsh example and one that is a pain in the butt. But try to look at your character, what kind of personality would she have after what she's been through rather than what personality she needs for the plot? Take that personality and build upon it, and then keep it in consideration with every line you write. Never bend the characters to the plot, if you have to circle around the topic for half a page just to comply with a characters feats during dialogue rather than them doing the plot-relevant thing right away, then do that.

Once you have your first draft, your character can of course be changed to a certain degree. Defined characters like these can easily come out wrong or develop throughout the story. Let them develop, it's better to rewrite the parts before the change than to never allow this natural facet of the MC to be added. And any feature that seems off or not right, feel free to change. Just make sure not to scrap everything. But once you've got that first draft, it shouldn't be too much of a bother with bland MC syndrome.
Last edited by Mammon on Mon Jul 24, 2017 5:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A Character's Voice

#3 Post by Winston_Nguyen » Mon Jul 24, 2017 5:34 pm

I used to have the same problem as you where my characters are 'textbook perfect,' but they still come across as boring + sounding the same as the rest of the cast. I solved this by giving my characters 'quirks' based on their lifestyle and backstory.

A pessimistic character might also be a prankster, because they enjoy making people suffer. OR since you said that your character was from a dying breed, but has too many personal concerns to care about it: you can make them say self-deprecating jokes/analogies about their own breed as a coping mechanism to their daily struggles.
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Re: A Character's Voice

#4 Post by Neeka » Mon Jul 24, 2017 6:02 pm

Mammon wrote:
Mon Jul 24, 2017 5:29 pm
If you feel like your main characters are all alike, then they're probably all of the 'blank slate MC' variety I assume? The MC doesn't have many of such facets after all. The situation may define their 'extreme situation' personality where the actions seem compliant or based upon the situation. If you wake up in a dungeon, of course your motivation will be to find our where you are and how to escape, but that's a rather extreme situation where your own personality barely comes into account. The MC's everyday personality is undefined and bland. Make a main character an unique character, even if that might be an unlikeable character or one that won't lie well with your entire audience.
They aren't necessarily a blank slate but I do like leaving it open for the player to make choices. In some cases though the choices would apply specifically to their personality. True, their daily personality before thrown into a new situation is foggy at best.

The story will have to adapt to the MC, rather than the other way around. Make a plot, then make a character that fits in the story, then as you're writing your draft you'll make sure to keep the character's personality in mind. Her dialogue in every conversation will be evasive rather than intrigued or asking further. Her actions will be trying to keep the status quo rather than changing things. That will force the plot to change to the needs of the character to actually fulfill her plot-relevant actions, make sure not to do it the other way around.
I normally start with an idea and a cast comes to mind. In the case of Alice in Neverland I had tried staying somewhat true to the characters from both novels. Alice 'struggles' with going back home or helping Neverland, to the point where she asks a character's opinion. However it's short and brief, her deciding to help save the world she woke up in. Near the end her original struggle briefly resurfaces before its resolved.
But try to look at your character, what kind of personality would she have after what she's been through rather than what personality she needs for the plot? Take that personality and build upon it, and then keep it in consideration with every line you write. Never bend the characters to the plot, if you have to circle around the topic for half a page just to comply with a characters feats during dialogue rather than them doing the plot-relevant thing right away, then do that.
That is a very good point. Since I was starting with a personality I had been given, I didn't end up changing her too much other than she steps up instead of running from the situation. Several times she shows weakness through the story.


Thank you so much for your advice! (Actually the example is from a Wonderland Garden idea of mine but Alice (unfortunately) fits as well. I believe if I keep her situation in mind as well as slow down somewhat things will work out.

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Re: A Character's Voice

#5 Post by Neeka » Mon Jul 24, 2017 6:06 pm

Winston_Nguyen wrote:
Mon Jul 24, 2017 5:34 pm
I used to have the same problem as you where my characters are 'textbook perfect,' but they still come across as boring + sounding the same as the rest of the cast. I solved this by giving my characters 'quirks' based on their lifestyle and backstory.

A pessimistic character might also be a prankster, because they enjoy making people suffer. OR since you said that your character was from a dying breed, but has too many personal concerns to care about it: you can make them say self-deprecating jokes/analogies about their own breed as a coping mechanism to their daily struggles.
That's a great idea :) I usually forget about quirks when it comes to designing characters, though I've been trying to do it more recently.

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Re: A Character's Voice

#6 Post by Katy133 » Mon Jul 24, 2017 7:24 pm

A trick that I use is making the two most prominent characters in the story foils to each other. That way, their opposing traits are highlighted even more because they are constantly interacting with each other.

Examples of foil duos:
  • Optimist vs pessimist.
  • Grumpy vs upbeat.
  • Shy vs outgoing.
  • Straight man vs funnyman.*
  • Exotic/eccentric vs plain/everyman.
  • Straight-laced vs shady.
  • Smart vs dumb.
  • Cautious vs reckless.
  • Cool-headed vs hot-tempered.
  • Snob vs slob.
*These are just tropes and archetypes. None of the above examples are gender-specific.

... And those are just a few examples. There's way more examples on TV Tropes.

A lot of well-known character duos follow this idea. Tintin and Captain Haddock (optimist vs pessimist), Sherlock and Watson (exotic vs everyman), and Batman and Robin (grumpy vs upbeat, depending on the adaptation). And basically every VN I've written so far follows this formula.
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Re: A Character's Voice

#7 Post by Winston_Nguyen » Mon Jul 24, 2017 7:26 pm

Neeka wrote:
Mon Jul 24, 2017 6:06 pm
Winston_Nguyen wrote:
Mon Jul 24, 2017 5:34 pm
I used to have the same problem as you where my characters are 'textbook perfect,' but they still come across as boring + sounding the same as the rest of the cast. I solved this by giving my characters 'quirks' based on their lifestyle and backstory.

A pessimistic character might also be a prankster, because they enjoy making people suffer. OR since you said that your character was from a dying breed, but has too many personal concerns to care about it: you can make them say self-deprecating jokes/analogies about their own breed as a coping mechanism to their daily struggles.
That's a great idea :) I usually forget about quirks when it comes to designing characters, though I've been trying to do it more recently.
I view quirks as like the 'icing on the cake.' Quirks alone won't make a character great, but once you have a strong base for the character - quirks give that added flavour your characters need. I actually wrote a blog post here if you're interested: https://www.fragmentsky.com/blog/2017/7 ... t-1-quirks
Katy133 wrote:
Mon Jul 24, 2017 7:24 pm
A trick that I use is making the two most prominent characters in the story foils to each other. That way, their opposing traits are highlighted even more because they are constantly interacting with each other.

Examples of foil duos:
  • Optimist vs pessimist.
  • Grumpy vs upbeat.
  • Shy vs outgoing.
  • Straight man vs funnyman.*
  • Exotic/eccentric vs plain/everyman.
  • Straight-laced vs shady.
  • Smart vs dumb.
  • Cautious vs reckless.
  • Cool-headed vs hot-tempered.
  • Snob vs slob.
*These are just tropes and archetypes. None of the above examples are gender-specific.

... And those are just a few examples. There's way more examples on TV Tropes.

A lot of well-known character duos follow this idea. Tintin and Captain Haddock (optimist vs pessimist), Sherlock and Watson (exotic vs everyman), and Batman and Robin (grumpy vs upbeat, depending on the adaptation). And basically every VN I've written so far follows this formula.
That's a great point. John Truby actually covers this in his book and he calls it 'character webs.' Just a few quotes from him:
The single biggest mistake writers make when creating characters is that they think of the hero and all other characters as separate individuals.
To create great characters, think of all your characters as part of a web in which each helps define the others. To put it another way, a character is often defined by who he is not.
All characters connect and define each other in four major ways: by story function, archetype, theme, and opposition.
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Re: A Character's Voice

#8 Post by Neeka » Tue Jul 25, 2017 2:56 pm

Katy133 wrote:
Mon Jul 24, 2017 7:24 pm
A trick that I use is making the two most prominent characters in the story foils to each other. That way, their opposing traits are highlighted even more because they are constantly interacting with each other.

Examples of foil duos:
  • Optimist vs pessimist.
  • Grumpy vs upbeat.
  • Shy vs outgoing.
  • Straight man vs funnyman.*
  • Exotic/eccentric vs plain/everyman.
  • Straight-laced vs shady.
  • Smart vs dumb.
  • Cautious vs reckless.
  • Cool-headed vs hot-tempered.
  • Snob vs slob.
*These are just tropes and archetypes. None of the above examples are gender-specific.
That makes a lot of sense! My works typically are rather plot-heavy so things like this usually don't enter my mind. Thanks for the advice!

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Re: A Character's Voice

#9 Post by Neeka » Tue Jul 25, 2017 2:58 pm

That's a great point. John Truby actually covers this in his book and he calls it 'character webs.'
Thanks for the examples! I do have the habit of not figuring out how the characters affect one another, even in subtle ways. Sometimes I'll do a character map of one person and see how the others are connected to them but perhaps I should go more in depth.

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Re: A Character's Voice

#10 Post by Sonomi » Wed Jul 26, 2017 2:30 pm

A few things about both excerpts strike me as potential inhibitors to your character's voice. This is something I noticed about my own writing as well, so I'm going to walk you through what I learned through trial and error.
There aren't many of my kind left ... we're just dying out ... our breed has seen it's final chapter ... probably be non-existent in another hundred years or so ... i'm not saddened by it. similar things have happened in the past.
Repetition. This paragraph seems to be the same sentence about the race dying out and there's no new information (in this case, how the MC feels about it) until the underlined sentence. When you write from a character's point of view, try to make them speak exactly the same way as they would in literal dialogue with other characters. Get into their heads and ask why they're saying these things, and if they would ever say them out loud, in this manner. Great character voice delivers narration as though it were part of a conversation. So, perhaps I just mean to say that a "conversational tone" might be beneficial.

You could revise that passage to say: "My kind isn't going to be around a hundred years from now [1] and I really couldn't care less. [2] It's happened before. [3]"

[1] New Info: His race is dying out.

[2] New Info: He doesn't care, so maybe there's going to be a conflict about this later on.

[3] New Info: Something like this threatened their species before. What was it?

Those notations are what a reader would think as they read from sentence to sentence. Although this has more to do with sentence structure, I feel that content delivery is also a part of a character's voice. Do they speak in short sentences often? How much do they go into detail about any given thing? Are they formal with their words or do they prefer colloquial speech?

It's okay to elaborate on an idea, just make sure you're consistently introducing new aspects of that information to avoid a pitfall therein with shifting what you intend to be internal monologue into generic narration. One good exercise is observing yourself! You're sitting in a cafe and watching the people around you. Are you thinking about your bills, school, family, what that guy is doing with his straw? In your own internal monologue, pay attention to how you linger on thoughts, word choice (positive or negative), and so forth. This is the equivalent of your character's narration.

What you want to do is take advantage of the fact that English has several words and phrases that mean the same thing, but have a different "connotation". This is important! Depending upon who you're talking to, people will express themselves in different ways. There are specific words that I never use, yet some people I know will say them on a daily basis.

Another thing to keep in mind is the intent behind the sentence. Why is the MC saying these things and are they relevant? Again, try to treat narrative just like dialogue - don't say anything that wouldn't fit the context of what's taking place right now and personalize your word choice with the main character's speech patterns + vocabulary.

If the MC doesn't like someone, internal thoughts are going to use words with a negative connotation to describe said person. Unless the MC is nice and would prefer to use a more polite, neutral tone (see how personality affects the way we think of ourselves and others?). Hey, maybe MC is trying to be nice and that monologue is passive aggressive when they're thinking about that person. Mold your voice to the situation, and certainly to the person.
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Re: A Character's Voice

#11 Post by Neeka » Wed Jul 26, 2017 3:16 pm

Another thing to keep in mind is the intent behind the sentence. Why is the MC saying these things and are they relevant? Again, try to treat narrative just like dialogue - don't say anything that wouldn't fit the context of what's taking place right now and personalize your word choice with the main character's speech patterns + vocabulary.
Thanks for the many tips! This is a good point to keep in mind when writing. That way the narration will sound more like my character and less like me. :)

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Re: A Character's Voice

#12 Post by Katy133 » Wed Jul 26, 2017 7:19 pm

This video is also related to writing dialogue and using voice:

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Re: A Character's Voice

#13 Post by Neeka » Thu Jul 27, 2017 1:54 pm

Katy133 wrote:
Wed Jul 26, 2017 7:19 pm
This video is also related to writing dialogue and using voice:

That's a wonderful video! With this advice I had to make some edits to my current game's script. The game is more an experience for me but I wish for others to enjoy it of course. :)

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Re: A Character's Voice

#14 Post by Yolo400 » Tue Aug 01, 2017 12:20 pm

What do you mean that the first voice is better than the second?

The second narrative evolves properly and is wonderfully done. The first is a static shambles.

I know you don't have the honest critique thing in your signature, but I believe honesty is the best policy.

"What am i? why should I care if you don't know what you are Who knows Well if you don't know, how am I supposed to know. There aren't many of my kind left oh wait you knew what you were all along, then what's the point of asking the question?. Don't get me wrong you've got yourself wrong, that doesn't make us rare by any means so there aren't many of you left but you're not rare. we're just dying out you're dying out but you're not rare but you're rare but no one really knows what you are and you don't know what you are... bah! I know what you are! You're an indecisive person!!!. our breed has seen it's final chapter and why should I care? make up your mind. we'll probably be non-existent in another hundred years or so better find a mate then. i'm not saddened by it me neither. similar things have happened in the past. any excuse for laziness
besides there's more?, i have my own problems to worry about like what?. what happens in a hundred years is not my concern nor is it mine (would normally have stopped reading 7 lines ago). i'll hopefully be in a well dug grave by then. MMM HMMM deep enough so wild dogs or scavengers don't dig me up. why don't you want to be dug up? you don't care about anything else...
was i always this pessimistic? you're not pessimistic, you're indecisive. no, that's not the right word. true hmm...either way, what do you mean either way? you never found the right word! there could be far more ways than just two I don't have time to worry about it. really? you don't know what you are, but you don't have time... sure thing i'm sure I'll think of it in a few hours if i remember at all. that's rich
Time for work. if you'd started on "Time for work" this would have been an easier and more relatable read - and this is coming from one of the most depressed, lonely and indecisive readers you'll ever meet or have read your work Yes, yours truly has a job. gzz nothing glamorous, :'(but that's to be expected in this city. is the city not glamorous, or you having a job? I run errands. really? a delivery boy of sorts. riveting. except whatever is in the package changes each time. lol so a postman then? cheap takeout for room 203. ill have some cheap takeout if you don't mind a half-soaked gooey box for the creeps in the garage across from the supermarket. cheap takeout then? and a live animal of sorts for a ghoul, most likely dinner. cheap takeout then? "
so a pizza delivery boy is the MC
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