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This is the blog of children's book author and third grade teacher, Stacy Barnett Mozer. I blog about my own writing journey, the journey of other kidlit authors, my classroom, and talk about books. Thanks for stopping by. Your thoughts are always welcome (and encouraged).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Finding Your Character's Voice

If a normal person told you that they spend hours of their day listening to voices of imaginary people in their head - you'd probably call them crazy. Thankfully I am not a normal person, I'm a writer. Not only do I listen to voices, I look forward to hearing them. I spend my time in the car, at night, in the shower -listening. When I finally sit down to write I replay the conversations I've been hearing and then find  the images to go with the voices. 

But every now and then a voice stays quiet. That's what happened this week as I tried to make final revisions in my middle grade novel. While most of the characters came in loud and clear, one character, a boy named Mike, held himself back. Unfortunately, without his voice, the novel couldn't come together.

I realized the problem right away. When I first wrote the story, Mike was sixteen. Since then, after many rewrites, rethinks, and replots, all of the other characters realized they were thirteen. Mike continued to think he was sixteen. It was only three years, but it made a lot of difference.

So how could I find Mike's voice? And how could I isolate his dialogue in a way that I could clearly see what he was saying? I decided to do something which was a little crazy, even for a writer. I turned my entire manuscript into a play.

Once the action, images, and thoughts were taken away, I could clearly hear my characters talking. I realized that while everyone else gave short answers with meaning, Mike spoke in speeches. I talked to parents of thirteen year olds, read books with thirteen year old characters, and listened to them in the real world. Finally thirteen year old Mike began talking and he really didn't understand what sixteen year old Mike had been saying.

Do I have him now? I hope so. I have beta readers and an agent who will tell me. But I feel good about the process, even if it was a little odd.

How do you find your character's voice? Ever do anything interesting to find it?

7 comments:

  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one! I sometimes have full on arguments in my head with my character's about what they want to do next in the story! That's one of the best parts of being a writer - having the character's voice develop so clearly that they really do have their own personalities and ideas of how they want the story to progress no matter how much you might have plotted otherwise.

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    1. I don't get the chance to argue because my characters never talk to me, they talk to themselves or each other. I just listen and follow their lead.

      When I finished this novel I told my 8 yr. old son that I was very surprised about how the story had ended. He looked at me strangely and said, "But Mom, you're the writer. You wrote the ending." So I tried to explain to him about the voices and listening.

      He just shook his head and walked away.

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  2. I just got chills reading about your process. I can't wait to hear what Mike's going to say! And what he's NOT going to say...

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    1. I think you're right. It's what he doesn't say that made all the difference.

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  3. Finding the voice is such a key part of writing, because the voice can really make or break the writing. I know in my most recent WIP, it took a couple drafts to find my MC's voice, because originally he said and thought a lot of things no sane teenage guy would think or say. Once you get it though, things really start to come together.

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    1. I'm glad your draft came together, Ava. I hope mine has too!

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  4. If I may add and continue with your play/drama theory. Another good tool is to figure out your character's spine and what they use to accomplish them. Also studying acting will help you find your character's voice as well. What an actor does to be that character. Cause after all, you are them :-)

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