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Thread: Characters' Voices

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW Sentosa's Avatar
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    Characters' Voices

    I'm well into what I hope is the final review of my WIP. Currently, I'm fine-tuning the voices of my 3 major characters. Reasonably happy with that part of the revision.

    Because of the nature of my story, each of these MCs spends significant time alone. Therefore, internal monologues/thoughts are important.

    I've successfully attributed unique voices to these characters, but I haven't changed their thoughts to match their spoken voices.

    My reasoning for this relies on several psychological studies, which can be summarised as follows: A person, when speaking remains unaware of the speech differences heard/interpreted by the listeners.

    On that basis, I have differentiate the MCs' voices, but have left their thoughts unchanged. For example:

    Spoken: "Piss off ya dumb prick. Told ya yesterday I ain't sellin' t' ya."
    Thought: I haven't time to deal with this now.

    Would appreciate comments.
    Sentosa

  2. #2
    Apprentice Wordslinger Detri Redmond's Avatar
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    Just throwing this out there... I'd rather be able to tell some difference in thought along with voice. Although the psycho studies might be correct reader's will PROBABLY assume that the characters should have a different tone when thinking. Hope that made sense
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  3. #3
    Queen of the Upmarket Bagladies HoneyBadger's Avatar
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    Voice, both internal and external, should match (or sharply contrast with) the emotions and situation.

    So, if someone's in crisis, they should be thinking in crisis-mode, and that voice should be different than their over-the-moon happy voice, than their wicked-awful-lonely voice, etc. It should (don't you love the absolutes I use? It's almost like I'm not pulling this out of my ass right now or something!) be subtle, so your guy's not talking in like 30 different voices, but done effectively, it adds so so so much to good voice.

    BUT, external and internal voices should (unless you've a stylistic reason for not) match overall. Some people are taciturn but super philosophical, or chatty yet vapid, but they still speak and think in comparable voices.

    Does this make sense?

  4. #4
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    I like the way you're doing it, personally. I like to be reminded of what a person sounds like in their dialogue, but like you, I think that thoughts should be clear. Otherwise you end up with Trainspotting. And if you ever here me mention that book (which I do often), you know that I had a lot of trouble understanding it. To say the least.

    So yes, phonetic dialogue, if done right, by all means. Phonetic narration, no freaking thanks.

    BUT, as far as the point the other answerers were making, the character should think like the character. If you are writing third person, anytime you say character thought after something, it should feel like the character in some way.

  5. #5
    Queen of the Upmarket Bagladies HoneyBadger's Avatar
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    Welllll, in close third, you'd rarely need to say, "he thought."

    He thought, boy, she looks like a skank. <-- "He thought" is a filter.

    In close 3rd, you'd just write: Boy, she looks like a skank. In close third, the narration is still the POVs character's voice, unless you specifically want distance in which case, you wouldn't be in close 3rd. (Or you'd be doing something else specifically as a stylistic choice.)

  6. #6
    Angel Wing Fetish VoireyLinger's Avatar
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    People might not be aware of differences in speech patterns, but the think like they speak. Internals should fit with dialogue.

  7. #7
    Travel biologist, piss-poor fluffer quicklime's Avatar
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    I think dialect isn't the same, but voice carries through....a character may not think "you'n can all go ahn 'n piss up a rope" but he would be more likely to think "you can all go piss up a rope" than "I find your company unpleasant and welcome every one of you to urinate upon yourselves or encounter a similarly unpleasant situation."
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    is watching you via her avatar jjdebenedictis's Avatar
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    Like some others have said, I tend to believe the character would think almost the same way they speak, but they wouldn't hear their own accent. So Hagrid from the Harry Potter books probably thinks, "All right?" not "All righ'?"

    After all, the errors that non-native speakers make usually mirror whatever would be correct grammar in their mother tongue. And if that's true, then I'd guess that any person's verbal quirks mirror the way they think. The only difference would be in what others hear in terms of dropped or stressed sounds--not the person's distinct grammatical pattern.

    Gosh, I hope that made sense.
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  9. #9
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    Both the thoughts and spoken words should clearly belong to a particular character. The thoughts needn't be written exactly the same way but they should probably reflect the character's vocabulary, personality and mental state. See quicklime's example. HoneyBadger is spot on about matching voice to situation as well.

    There's a lot to consider when polishing your prose like this. I suggest going through your manuscript and reworking it as necessary but don't burn yourself out. Next time you'll perhaps take some extra time to get a feel for your characters' voices from the start. It can save you a lot of time.

  10. #10
    Shooting stars. lolchemist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sentosa View Post
    My reasoning for this relies on several psychological studies, which can be summarised as follows: A person, when speaking remains unaware of the speech differences heard/interpreted by the listeners.
    Are you sure you're interpreting that theory correctly though? I think it's supposed to refer to accents moreso than speech in general. The reason I ask is because personally, when I'm saying "Guuuurl! O heeeell naaaaw!" What I'm thinking in my head is verbatim 'Guuuuurl! O heeeell naaaaw!' It's NOT 'Hell no, my female friend.'

    I think it's the same for most people except in certain situations where it would be inappropriate, in which case they have to translate from their head-speak to 'proper English' when speaking with others, for example in a professional setting.

    Say if I were talking to my boss, I would have to translate the 'O heeeell naaaaww!' In my head to "I don't think that's feasible, sir," when speaking out loud, LOL.

    I am definitely NOT urging you to do the phonetic accent thing in your book though, that stuff is painful to the eyes! But I agree with everyone else, the inside voice should match the outside voice. In my example, writing 'Girl! Oh, hell no!' would have to suffice with maybe a few stylistic embellishments added in. like "she shook her head in disgust." Or whatever.

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  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW Sentosa's Avatar
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    Thank you all for your thought provoking comments. Not your fault, but I remained no clearer at the end of reading all the help. I appreciate your help.

    Tried several Internet searches which produced this comment:


    Character Thoughts from an article written by Pearl Luke

    Like us, fictional characters think in the same unique voice they use in speech. Additionally, their thoughts reveal an otherwise hidden side of themselves, so keep them "in character" even when they are silent. One may be obsessive in private, another silently critical. One may daydream often, while another doesn’t waste a minute. Their thoughts will reveal these characteristics.

    Avoid creating characters who think and sound too much alike. A protagonist that wonders who turned the damn heat up is much different from one who thinks, Goodness, it's warm in here. Readers should be able to immediately distinguish between characters based on their thoughts and voice, even without prompts or dialogue tags.

    Is your character outwardly cool, but inwardly jealous? Does he skew the truth? Delude himself? Is she self-congratulatory, or always thinking the best or worst of others? These private thoughts and feelings allow readers to know more than other characters know. This is a good way to create tension.

    For example, if readers know that the antagonist is inwardly plotting against the protagonist, readers will be suspicious of the antagonist's offer of help, and will be silently screaming "don't believe him!" You will involve reader emotions as readers become protective and hope for the safety of the character at risk.
    =====
    If you're interested in following-up:
    (http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/cr...haracters.html)
    Sentosa

  12. #12
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    Everyday speech is more informal than the way people tell stories or write, but people don't morph into someone else when they tell stories. Their verbal habits are present in both.

    Your example is like two people different people speaking, rather than the same person being more formal. If a person would tell someone to piss off, they're going to think they want the person to piss off too. They're not going to become swearing-free because it's a thought and not spoken. If a person says ain't, they're not going to think in isn'ts. They may form their sentences more carefully, and cut down a little on slang, because the listener/reader is assumed to be a stranger and not their best friend... but that's not the same as suddenly sounding like an English teacher.
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  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW brianjanuary's Avatar
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    Each character should have an assigned POV or way of looking at the world (angry, elated, pessimistic, hopeful, etc.) which permeates his/her behavior. Our psychology steers us like a car.

    Not only will this help you delineate your characters on paper, but it will help the reader keep each character straight.

    It will also help if you're doing major character arcs (the bitter skinflint Scrooge becomes a joyous humanitarian at the end).

  14. #14
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sentosa View Post
    Spoken: "Piss off ya dumb prick. Told ya yesterday I ain't sellin' t' ya."
    Thought: I haven't time to deal with this now.

    Would appreciate comments.
    Well...that's kind of a jarring difference. It isn't so much the lack of slang in the thoughts, but the formal diction. It sounds completely out of character. Almost nobody thinks "I haven't time." It would at least be "I don't have time." And probably more like "I don't have for this sh!t."

    People may not be aware of speech quirks, but someone who speaks street slang is not going to switch to drawing-room English in his head.

  15. #15
    Psychopompous AW Moderator RichardGarfinkle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sentosa View Post
    Like us, fictional characters think in the same unique voice they use in speech. Additionally, their thoughts reveal an otherwise hidden side of themselves, so keep them "in character" even when they are silent. One may be obsessive in private, another silently critical. One may daydream often, while another doesn’t waste a minute. Their thoughts will reveal these characteristics.
    This is only partially accurate while the internal perspective and the perspective used in speech are the same, thought and speech are not really the same.

    Speech is limited to words and body language and restricted by what can be shared using these.

    Thought is associative and inherently more complex than speech. Each person's ideas carry a far more complex overlay and infrastructure of learning and experience than words can easily convey.

    To give a simple example, the idea 'Home' means something unique to each person based on where they have lived and what their lives were like in those places. The spoken word 'home' however depends in its meaning on what is shared between the speaker and the hearer. If the two live in the same house it may carry some of the same associations, if one has visited the home of the other the word will carry a few associations, and if they don't know anything about each other's homes the word will carry a generic sense of home.

    People usually tailor their speech to whomever they are talking to, and would adapt their discussions of the word 'home' depending on the level of intimacy above.

    But in thinking they generally have the most intimate personal meanings to words.


    Internal monologue can imply these associations even though it is also limited to words, by bringing up what the words carry with them to the mind of the thinker. A person who has just lost a loved one may have that associated with all thoughts of home. A person returning from a hard day's work may have flashes of food and bed and other comforts in their thinking of the word and so on.
    Sometimes, what people need is to have things asked of them.




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  16. #16
    Caped Codder jaksen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sentosa View Post



    Spoken: "Piss off ya dumb prick. Told ya yesterday I ain't sellin' t' ya."
    Thought: I haven't time to deal with this now.

    Would appreciate comments.
    My reasoning would be the opposite:

    Spoken: I am in big trouble now.
    Thought: Christ, I'm in deep shit.

    Why I see it this way: Washing machine is spitting suds underneath it, in all directions. My thoughts are: Christ, I'm in deep shit. I might add, Oh, fuck.

    Spoken to my husband on the phone: I'm in big trouble here!

    But in my writing, I'd keep it consistent. Spoken words and thoughts would pretty much be the same.
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  17. #17
    can totally spell Brobdinrgnagrian buzhidao's Avatar
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    Forgive me, I'm a little slow. But I'm confused...

    I've successfully attributed unique voices to these characters, but I haven't changed their thoughts to match their spoken voices
    .

    So...what voice are their thoughts in? What do you mean "changed"? Changed from what?

    My reasoning for this relies on several psychological studies, which can be summarised as follows: A person, when speaking remains unaware of the speech differences heard/interpreted by the listeners.
    I'm not sure what exactly you're referring to when you say "speech differences". Whose speech differences? Dialect or meaning? Do you mean that a person will say one thing and another person will interpret it differently than how it was meant? Not quite sure what this is trying to say.
    On that basis, I have differentiate the MCs' voices, but have left their thoughts unchanged.
    Again, unchanged from what?

    For example:

    Spoken: "Piss off ya dumb prick. Told ya yesterday I ain't sellin' t' ya."
    Thought: I haven't time to deal with this now.
    Are you pointing out dialect differences, or...slang...or...harshness...I dunno. I'm pretty sure this person is aware of the difference in how those phrases sound. It seems to me if there is such a marked difference, in fact, the person would be changing their speech on purpose and be quite aware of it.

    By just those lines, I would interpret your character as someone who is inherently a dweeb, reads way too much, particularly novels of somewhat loftier diction, and uses fancier speech out of natural inclination, but tries to hide it and seem like one of the guys by saying piss off you dumb prick and stuff like that. (I did this a lot as a kid. Still do, sometimes.) I think he would be aware.

    You can have huge differences between how a person talks and how a person thinks, but those differences should be "in character"--something about the character, yanno? A common example would be someone thinking something horribly mean and rude and filled with obscenity, and outwardly saying something polite and fake-nice. Or, even more extreme, you could have a character with a medical condition, such as a stroke, who can hardly say anything, or is literally incapable of saying what they mean, but can think just fine.

    But I'm not sure that's what you're asking...it's the "unaware" bit that throws me. Words get twisted around all the time, of course. I frequently say stuff that is CLOSE to what I mean, but isn't. And even when I say the right words, it's sometimes misinterpreted. And maybe my frequent usage of the phrase "and shit and fucks" makes me sound much harsher and more bitter than I am, and I am usually not aware of it until I really stop and think about it. But...

    I'm confused, still. :P

  18. #18
    practical experience, FTW
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    Oh, I remember they did that in ER once. It was fantastic. They had this woman voice-overing everything she was thinking and saying, but she'd had a stroke and she couldn't communicate any of it.

  19. #19
    Psychopompous AW Moderator RichardGarfinkle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Buffysquirrel View Post
    Oh, I remember they did that in ER once. It was fantastic. They had this woman voice-overing everything she was thinking and saying, but she'd had a stroke and she couldn't communicate any of it.
    There was also a good bit in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Apologies for the fannishness of this post.

    Buffy becomes temporarily telepathic and starts hearing the thoughts of her friends as they speak. A lot of the fun of this was the differences.

    Xander's thoughts were a mix of his sexual attraction to various females (including Buffy) and his fear that she would hear his thoughts about said sexual attractions.

    Cordelia (a shallow character at the time) was the only one who said the same things she was thinking.

    Oz (who was mostly monosyllabic) was having a deep philosophical internal monologue and all he said was, "Huh."
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  20. #20
    can totally spell Brobdinrgnagrian buzhidao's Avatar
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    Oh, I remember they did that in ER once. It was fantastic. They had this woman voice-overing everything she was thinking and saying, but she'd had a stroke and she couldn't communicate any of it.
    Did that on House with locked-in syndrome, too. And there was an episode where the dude had aphasia and kept saying things that made no sense. But he thought he was speaking perfectly--so he didn't understand why people were confused. (I'm not sure as to the medical realism of "Oh! 'I couldn't tackle the bear' means he couldn't overcome his bipolar disorder, because 'bear' means 'polar bear'" or whatever, but. It was a cool episode anyway.)

    /huge diversion (apologies)

  21. #21
    Lost in mental space. Namatu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RichardGarfinkle View Post
    There was also a good bit in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Apologies for the fannishness of this post.

    Buffy becomes temporarily telepathic and starts hearing the thoughts of her friends as they speak. A lot of the fun of this was the differences.

    Xander's thoughts were a mix of his sexual attraction to various females (including Buffy) and his fear that she would hear his thoughts about said sexual attractions.

    Cordelia (a shallow character at the time) was the only one who said the same things she was thinking.

    Oz (who was mostly monosyllabic) was having a deep philosophical internal monologue and all he said was, "Huh."
    I think this is a great example that shows the characters' speech and internal thoughts. While not everyone was saying exactly what they thought, their internal monologues remained consistent with their "voices" as characters (unless you never expected Oz to be all that philosophical).

  22. #22
    Psychopompous AW Moderator RichardGarfinkle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Namatu View Post
    I think this is a great example that shows the characters' speech and internal thoughts. While not everyone was saying exactly what they thought, their internal monologues remained consistent with their "voices" as characters (unless you never expected Oz to be all that philosophical).
    They're consistent with their personalities, but their external and internal voices are qualitatively different.
    Sometimes, what people need is to have things asked of them.




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  23. #23
    Lost in mental space. Namatu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RichardGarfinkle View Post
    They're consistent with their personalities, but their external and internal voices are qualitatively different.
    That's what I meant by "consistent with their 'voices' as characters."

  24. #24
    practical experience, FTW cmi0616's Avatar
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    Unless the psychological studies have been directly implemented in your work, and are important to your story, you should stay consistent with the internal and external voices. It's an interesting point you bring up, and one is probably true to some extent, but on the page it might very well confuse the reader or pose as a turn-off to him/her.
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  25. #25
    Psychopompous AW Moderator RichardGarfinkle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Namatu View Post
    That's what I meant by "consistent with their 'voices' as characters."
    In the context of this thread those should probably be distinguished since one of the basic questions is should the thoughts be written in the same manner as the speech.
    Sometimes, what people need is to have things asked of them.




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