I got a question about my writing the other day:
Do you picture your characters in your head, do you hear their voices? Do they flesh out the more you entertain them and actually write about them? … Do you even start out with distinct picture of a character/situation that grabs your attention?
Generally speaking, I do have voices for all my characters. They often don’t change, either. And, it helps for me to speak out a conversation when it’s still in the plotting stages as well as after it goes down on paper. If something doesn’t sound natural to me, I spend a lot of time reworking it. Unless it’s plot exposition, though I still prefer that to have a spontaneous rhythm to it. 🙂
My sister has an uncanny audio memory. She’ll hear something once and remember it for years. Even inflections! I’m not that good, but I do think that reworking fiction conversations in my head over and over until they become second nature has helped my character voices a lot. One thing a few recent readers have commented on is that my dialogue flows really well, so I’m proud of that.
Characters become more real for me the more I work with them. I think that probably happens with all writers, though. And, it makes sense. We spend so much time in the heads and hearts of these people, we come to know them better than we know the physical people around us. Likely because we are privy to all the inside thoughts and turmoils. Personally, I project a lot into my characters, though I try to keep some of them to specific boundaries, because they all have different conflicts. (It’s hard to articulate.)
My inspiration often can be traced back to a single face/moment/voice, and, as time goes on, characters develop into their own people. For instance, Daniel (“Finding Mister Wright”) evolved from Hal (“From Hell”) by way of Aral (“Anywhere but Here”), who was a different side of Ross (“Fearless”). But, they share similarities in look, manners, and voice, which unites them in my head, and allows me to jump into their shoes with much more ease than I might be able to do otherwise. Fresh characters, as it were, take much more time for me to grasp. One thing that my husband mentioned to me when he read “Finding Mister Wright” was that the first two acts work really well, but the third needed more time with one of the late-intro’d characters. As it stands, she feels like a plot device, not a person, as the other characters do. I see his point, and I think it’s because when she was originally written, she was still one of those “new” characters. Of course, since then, I’ve written more with her, so, now, it’s a matter of going back and growing her into a person as fully-fleshed as the others.
Do you hear your characters’ voices in your head?
I try to picture myself in the characters I write about. I try to think about what I would say or do in specific situations. I admit that I need to work on fleshing out my characters more. I need to conduct interviews with my characters to get a sense of their personalities, to understand why they do what they do.
I think picturing ourselves in our characters is key, George. It helps create empathy/sympathy for them. If we empathize with them, it should be easier for a reader to do that, as well. I’ve seen that interview technique, though I’ve only done it once. It’s not one of my go-to techniques only because I end up spending a lot more time on the “interview” than I do on the actual story! 🙂
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It’s weird. I feel my characters like I live inside them. But I don’t always have a strong sense of exactly how they look or sound. I usually have an idea if a voice is particularly high or nasally or a defining characteristic of them, but I don’t have a set vocal range for a character. I do feel like I get their voice and their perspective though. 🙂
So, it’s a little like the way we hear our own voices, in our own ears? Cool. 🙂
I always feel like I know a character better if I can have a conversation with him or her, even if it’s with someone else’s voice.
I definitely hear their voices, so I have a good idea of the things they would say and how they would say it depending on the circumstances.
Of course, this has nothing to do with the fact they have me tied up at the computer forcing me to write their stories, no sirree! 😉
Hee hee – I know that feeling, Kate! I also sometimes force myself to put on my headphones, so I can hear them more clearly…in my own head! But, the distinction of each of their voices – whether it’s an Iowan twang or a Cornish drawl or a proper blue-blooded accent – helps me distinguish their thoughts, hopes, and dreams. Weird, how just their voices prompt us to come to those ends, but cool. 🙂
Like Kourtney, I don’t necessarily have a clear “image” of how my characters sound or specifically look because I often feel like I’m seeing the story from their eyes, too. Hmm, if I could now just write as well and tightly as Kourtney does! 😀 But they can definitely “take over” my perspective for their own ends when the mood strikes them.
Yeah, but Kourtney’s protag is telepathic, so that’s not exactly fair. 😉
I often really enjoy when a character takes over a bit: sometimes, they open up new possibilities for me, too!
The characters become real people, don’t they? Real to the individual, through reading or creating. The process of creating characters or learning about them reminds me of meeting new people and learning more about them whenever you spend time with them.
We had a discussion about something like this in class once. Nearly everyone said that they see the books they read like movies in their head, where the characters do have voices. It might have to do with the visual influences all around us, what with television, movies and even visual novels. These revelations shocked our teacher, as she was among the few that visualize words when hearing words (for example, say the word “cloud.” Did you see it as a word, as an actual cloud, or puffy clouds spelling out the word?).
Also, how do you see the story in your head? As something projected on a screen, or are you standing in your characters’ world with them, living it in 3D? Or something else? (This was another thing we questioned in class.)
That’s a good question, spooney. I most often see the stories as a film or play, where I control the angles, depths of field, lighting, and so on. Though, sometimes, I project myself into a character, especially if that character provides the main POV. For instance, if Ross and Amber are having an argument, I’ll project myself into Ross first, because he’s my primary protagonist, and so I can appropriately feel his motivations and put out his dialogue. But very quickly I’ll switch to Amber, so I can “see” Ross from her perspective, for his actions or facial changes. Even when the interactions are difficult, I love being in my characters. 🙂
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Aw thank you JM! 🙂 That is probably why I don’t have a specific image of their sound or look. I’m so deep inside their POV, I’m in their skin as I write. I have a strong sense of their voice in the writing sense of their perspective and way of seeing things and how they would react and their word choices, but not the actual sound of their voice when they speak. I do imagine conversations in my head and scenes unfold there, but I don’t know that I could say x actor sounds like Oliver.
Quite often a thought I had or a passage I’ve read will inspire a character, but pulling someone off a tv character or even picture on the web stops all flow of info for me. It’s like they are already flesh and blood, so I can’t use it or something.
My characters have to be completely made up, I can’t see their faces although I can see their bodies in my mind’s eye. I envy those who can make up a character based on an actor/actress. Mine would be so much more life-like if I could describe them better.
Something to work on. 🙂
Wow, that’s really interesting, Neeks. I think you’re the first person I’ve heard who’s said that! 🙂
What is it about the body but not the face, I wonder? Like, do you have a feeling for what they look like, just not a definite image? That’s kind of cool, actually…and really gives credence to knowing someone for their soul instead of what they look like. 🙂
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No idea Mayumi, I just accept the limitation and to be honest, when I’m working on a character it’s what they feel in a situation, or see and how they react to it – that’s the character for me. That’s what I’m trying to write.
Of course, I’m doing short stories for the most part, so there isn’t time or need to physically describe so much of the story. Out of necessity (and a great excuse) I have to keep it brief.