Finding Your Voice: Word Choice and Tone

First let me say how sorry I am for being away so long — this is becoming a habit of sorts: binge blogging — but I’ve been under the weather for the last week and really not fit to write much of anything. But I’ve resolved to get back to the subject at hand and so I will…sooner or later. Just let me get another tissue and a cup of tea — I’m an unabashed whiner when I’m sick and I don’t care who knows it! – Alright, here we go…

Every writer has a “voice” — a style if you will — of creating sentences and stringing words together. This style can change slightly depending on what you’re writing but generally once you’ve found your voice, it becomes your distinguishing marker and it makes writing a heck of a lot easier (in a way). Finding your voice/style is not that difficult of a process, you just have to know what you’re writing, who is telling the story, and why. Remember ask “why” about everything, it’s the only way to understand what is at the core of what you are or are attempting to write. The same is true of tone; every story has a tone — a way in which it is written and read that conveys an emotion. What view of the characters and their world are you trying to get across to readers?  Are your descriptions flowery, straight-forward, menacing? Your tone should dictate your word choice as your word choice sets your tone. After a while the two will blend almost inconceivably in your mind and with the parameters set, your voice will emerge on the page. It’s not as confusing as it seems, it just takes practice!

When I was in High School I foolishly fought with my teacher on the subject of word choice, saying that no author sits there and painstakingly chooses EVERY word of their work. How overly proud and wrong I was though I didn’t know it at the time. It took about two years for me to figure out how horribly mistaken and silly I was for arguing about something I really did not know anything about yet.  Writers DO labor over every word they choose to use in the telling of their story, because every word has a connotation – a preconceived meaning, image, or notion – attached to it and that meaning can and does change the entire tone of the story. Does someone step out of a dark hall, or do they coalesce out of a dark hall? Do they chuckle, giggle, snicker, cackle? In the end someone is just stepping out of a poorly lit area and someone else is just laughing but the words used to describe these moments leave an impression, a tone that alerts the reader to be worried, happy, or frightened. A writer’s word choice and tone instinctively tell a reader how to feel about a specific character/setting/thing etc. A single word can change the meaning of an entire sentence…no pressure.

Once you’ve gotten used to and/or comfortable with all this, then come the difficult part: melding your voice with a character’s. Authors and characters don’t always agree on things; one sees something one way, the other another and therein lays confusion for everyone involved. This is where it gets personal with a writer and his or her characters, there isn’t much advice I can give on the matter other than this: remember, as a writer you are writing SOMEONE ELSE’S story, but again, YOU are writing it. If a character had strong feeling about something, there is always a reason, but as the writer you may be viewing the story as a whole, and are seeing something that your character does not. It’s a tricky, fine line to walk, but one that makes the bond between author and character that much stronger.

Don’t be afraid to play around with your writing; try different styles and unusual words (in moderation of course) and see what works and doesn’t work for you and whatever story you’re trying to tell. One character and story might demand flowery descriptions and an open, friendly tone, while another needs a tighter, more practical  approach. It’s all part of being a writer, take the differences in stride and know that once you’ve found your style, your voice, you can adapt  it to the proper tone — with the correct word choice – needed and create the story that’s waiting to be told!

Delving into the Character of a Great Character

Two blogs in two days, what is the world coming to?!!!!! HA! We can only hope it includes unicorns and dragons and free books and somehow becomes a place where authors get paid an exuberant amount and have all kinds of sparklies lavished upon them daily! I don’t know how the free books and wealthy authors work out together but it’s my dream world so just go with it…just focus on the sparklies…oh the sparklies!

Must…stop thinking about…the sparklies…

So (clears throat) back to writing, (somewhat reluctantly)…characters and their development are essential to almost every novel/short-story of all genres. Settings and plot are not to be downplayed or have their importance lessened of course, but the characters of a story are invaluable. Readers have to love, hate, desire, fear, sympathize with and relate to the people they encounter within the pages of a book. Characters need to be realistic, human (not to be confused with humane), even those who aren’t necessarily  human have to have some sort of relatability to garner some sort of emotion from readers. Heroes. heroines, villans, villainess, best friends and the wacky neighbor down the street all need to be developed to some degree with flaws and imperfections depending on their relevance to the story. A real person is beautiful and ugly at the same time, contains both light and dark aspects and is, in fact, a walking contradiction to some degree. So should a character be.  A good character is three-dimensional, fully functioning and always motivated, always.

Think about it…

There is a reason for everything you do, from going to the fridge out of hunger to grimacing at someone because they once said your hair looked ugly (the jealous fiends!). It’s the same with a person in a story, they will be petty and hungry and those characteristics will drive them forward. A real character will have real motivations, real desires and real flaws. To write convincing characters think about yourself, about the people you know, what makes them seems real? What moves them? (Not that you should be writing the people you know into your stories, this is more of a practice thing). But above all listen to the characters themselves.  Take the time to listen to the stories they have to tell, suspend judgment (which is harder done than said) and their desires and motivations will reveal themselves. Don’t be afraid to write a protagonist with serious flaws, as long as those flaws fit the character; he or she should be relatable. No one is perfect and those who are perceived to be are usually annoying and instantly turn people off. On the other side, a villain will always have a motivation as well and it very well could be based off of a desire to do a perceived good as opposed to raw malicious intent. Don’t make the mistake of only focusing on one side of the story, the villain does not have to be completely sympathetic to the point where the reader will be confused about who to root for, nor does a protagonist have to be devoid of negative attributes; a touch of humanity goes a long way.

Take the time to fully develop a character and a character’s voice, don’t rush into a story without knowing who you are really writing about. Be patient, think about who this person/character is, what does he/she want and why, how do they feel about all this, how would they react to this obstruction being placed in front of them, would they balk, fight, run? And remember: be consistent, if a character’s character changes (and it should over the course of a novel) then it should be gradual and displayed over time. No one changes (fully) in one day. I’ve never understood writers who say they force their characters to do something or think a certain way or give them a name they want them to have, it seems unnatural and a character must be natural. If you have a naturally shy and timid character and you force them to suddenly — and without provocation — engage in a sword fight or a catty battle of words with someone they fear, it comes across as unnatural and leaves the reader feeling cheated and confused. Why did this character suddenly engage instead of withdraw, or inexplicably develop a taste for adventure when the previous fifty or so pages described them as a contented homebody? If a character naturally does something odd or naturally changes then there should be an understandable motivation behind it — it should not be because the writer wanted this random change — and it should take time to occur.

Understanding the intricacies of a character is not difficult, merely time-consuming, but taking the time to understand the “whys” makes translating a believable character to the page that much easier for both the writer and the reader. Don’t be afraid to question a character, the most important thing a writer can do is ask “Why?”.