Crafting Distinct Voices

Crafting Distinct VoicesCrafting Distinct Voices sets nine questions designed to tease out a distinctive voice for individual characters. Given the sparse dialogue I’m writing in my fantasy series, any prompts are worth considering.

These questions featured in a talk by the author of A Far Wilder Magic, Alison Saft at 2021’s Escape the Plot Forest summit.

I have two protagonists of different age, gender and world view. Do I have enough there to give them distinct voices? Here goes.

Nine Questions for Crafting Distinct Voices

1. What kinds of things does your character notice?

  • Jovanka looks for the good in people. It sounds sappy, but with her unhappy upbringing, it’s important to her. Environment as a place to experience and marvel at.
  • Varla is attuned to potential threats. Environment is a place to survive or hide in, or use to advantage against the enemy.

2. How can you make your metaphors specific to your character?

  • Jovanka has a sound private education. She’s much more likely to use abstract language and concepts.
  • Varla has the dual viewpoint of farmer and soldier. He often mutters about pigs and ponds, a farming metaphor no one quite gets or understands.

3. Does your character have a role in society?

  • Jovanka is an outsider, a mixed-race child in a xenophobic culture.
  • Varla is an outlawed rebel insurgent, admired by the Southlanders, reviled by the Empire.
  • ‘Society’ effectively has no place for either of them

4. What are the rhythms of your characters speech?

  • Jovanka has the benefits of education and languages, capable of holding a conversation with anyone..
  • Varla has the simplified rhythms of rural life. He’s a man of few words.

5. What does their tone sound like?

  • Jovanka’s passions can overwhelm her manners. Inheriting her father’s violent temper doesn’t help.
  • Varla is often dry, short with people, even brusque. Consequently, Varla sounds callous and unfeeling but this is a mask. At his best he’s a polite Southland gentleman.

6. What kinds of words do they use? Do they swear?

  • Jovanka chooses profanity carefully from her cultural heritage.
  • Varla swears like a trooper (which he is) in different dialects.

7. What’s their sense of humour?

  • Jovanka gently teases people. She enjoys wit and the exchange of personal stories
  • Varla’s rare humour is largely unintentional, of the dryest and blackest kind.

8. What memories and associations do they have with your setting?

  • Jovanka is an outcast, denied polite society. The elite and the Church look down on her.
  • Varla survived a rebellion and the loss of family.

9. What opinions do they hold?

  • Jovanka believes in justice for all. Disappointingly, she saw the people surrender freedom for imagined security.
  • Varla is compelled to vengeance for himself, his family and the Southlands. He has no faith in society. Varla does have abundant contempt for the greed and corruption of the Empire. At least the Republic stood for something, even though that candle burned out long ago.

Identity Parade

You can see from these questions, Saft offers a top-down view of character in the service of crafting distinct voices. The questions are not the answer in themselves. By drilling down into the individual answers, it’s possible to turn these snippets into actionable dialogue and narrative. Questions create answers create detail. These questions drive character over plot or setting.

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