Greetings, writers of lovely words. Today I, Thor, have a confession to make. It is that I have a weakness. Yes, even gods are not infallible, as much as Loki pretends to be.
Here is my confession: voice is one of the most difficult challenges I have faced thus far as a writer.
First, know that narrative voice is its own beast altogether and much more ethereal and undefinable than what I wish to speak of today. In this post I will list a number of my struggles -- all of which I have seen other writers make as well -- and the good advice that has helped me move past them. Before you are strategies to help make your characters' voices distinct and memorable.
Let us begin.
1. Focus on words, not letters.
Many beginning writers tend to lean heavily on accents to distinguish characters in their novels. This is most definitely a tool you can use, but more often than not it becomes burdensome for the reader. Apostrophes, missing letters, misspelled words; these can bog a story down more than livening it up.
Instead, focus on the words your character speaks. Focus on the order in which they speak them. Sometimes simply rearranging their sentence structure can have a dramatic effect on the way their voice sounds to the reader.
Another mistake I see often is made in writing extremely smart characters. One might assume that a brilliant person will use many large and complex words when they speak. However, the contrary is often true. A highly intelligent person is usually very gifted at explaining things in their simplest terms, concisely and succinctly.
This is not to say they won't use unfamiliar terminology when necessary, they simply know the proper time and place. Take Dr. Banner and Mr. Stark for example. If only the two of them are speaking, they can use highly technological jargon and know they will be understood. But in the presence of others they (usually Dr. Banner) will often take the time to simplify things for the rest of us.
There are many films and books available that are fantastic examples of character voice. One of my personal favorites (aside from our film, The Avengers, of course) is Disney's Wreck-it Ralph. If you have not had the pleasure of seeing it, I suggest you change that. Not only is Ralph a large and mighty man like myself, but I enjoy watching this film because of the character voices.
If you were to take almost any line from that movie and say it out of context, those who know the characters would still be able to easily identify whose line it is. When you can do that, you know your voices are distinctive. Study how others do it, and soon you'll be able to do it yourself.
Beyond anything else you hear today, this is the most important: KNOW your characters. I don't mean their favorite color or perfect date (though those would be good in certain circumstances). I mean you should know what they would notice first upon entering a room, and why that's what they notice. You should know the kinds of metaphors/comparisons they would instinctively make. You should know what their biggest weakness is; their greatest desire.
All of these things will inform the way your character speaks and thinks. If you are at all hesitant about whether you know your character, perhaps you should explore it more. Ask yourself who they are, and why they behave and believe the way they do.
I hope this is of help to you. These simple bits of advice have certainly assisted me over the years.
May the words flow for you,