ABC’s of Writing (for Beginners): V for Voice

Posted by on Oct 7, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

3Let Your Character’s Voice Be Heard

Imagine the voice of Jay Gatsby. Now imagine Nick Carraway’s voice. How about Daisy Buchanan? A natural way for the writer to show the reader part of who the character is, is by using voice. Each of the three above characters sounds unique and unlike each other. We know Daisy isn’t completely stupid, but her aloof and airy way of speaking tells us a lot about how she wants to be perceived. Both men, Nick and Gatsby still sound different, with Nick’s serious and story-telling speech and the hint of hopefulness always present in Gatsby’s voice. By choosing the words and phrases, thus the voice, that your characters use, you are completing them, rounding them out as people. It’s easy to hear each voice on their own when reading the story. By just a few changes to common differences in phrases and words, you can take turn your once Southern Belle into a Boston native.

For example, ‘soda’ and ‘pop’ mean the same thing, but one is used predominantly in the mid-west. If you had a protagonist from say New Jersey, she probably wouldn’t ask for some pop and pizza. Her voice wouldn’t be right and it would take the reader out of the story, removing some of the trust they have in you as their guide. But maybe your protagonist is from New Jersey and says ‘ya’ll’ instead of ‘you all’. Perhaps her southern grandmother has just passed away and she begins using this variation subconsciously as a way to still feel connected to her. As the writer, this is something you’d need to show the reader, making it feel natural. Voice alone can give so much away about the character that maybe they aren’t even aware of. Voice is the perfect incarnation of the writing lesson, “Show, don’t tell.”

In all genres and types of writing, voice is a way to make your character burst off the page. Giving each character a distinct voice that is theirs makes them all the more human and incredibly easy to relate to. Voice can tell so much about who your character is. As a reader we can quickly judge where they are from, how old they are, their intelligence, and their mood, all by you choosing their words carefully.

A great exercise to get a grasp on voice is to go somewhere with a lot of foot traffic and just sit on a bench and just listen to the people passing you by. What words do you hear most? Is it a slang word native to that area? Better yet, if your character is from Philadelphia, go there. Or if it’s too far for you to travel, find the local news’ website and watch videos from the area. The newscasters may sound similar throughout the country, but the people they interview on the streets won’t. And for non-fiction, be sure to include the phrases and words unique to the individual your speaking about, don’t drop it when composing your work. Exposing yourself to multiple speech patterns and variations helps you find the right one for your character, thus bringing them off the page and into the real world.

Finding your character’s voice makes them who they are, and makes them someone people will be able to relate to, and thus, remember.


Samantha Wolfsandle graduated from Fairfield University’s MFA program for creative writing in 2013. She has completed a novel that reflects the culture and identity of growing up in 1990s New Jersey. She lives in PEnnsylvania with her husband and two very adorable chinchillas.  ABC’s of Writing

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