Giving your Character a unique voice

Every character needs a strong, clear voice to help bring the reader into their world. Whether it’s an accent or turn of phrase, every person has a unique way of communicating – the way a person talks can project their internal world to the world at large.

A character’s “voice” is their way of interacting with your world and other character’s. It’s a key tool to help with exposition, and sell a character’s POV to a reader.

Using certain phrases to make up a character’s voice

Phrases are super helpful when trying to weave in exposition. You typically see it in fantasy book as the “alternative to swear words” – referring to the in-world gods or religious deities as an alternative to f**k off.

But you can also be more subtle with your use of phrases. For example, you could have two characters who speak the same language but have a different turn of phrase for a problem, the equivalent of “Looking for a needle in the haystack” vs “taken on a wild goose chase”. Each phrase could indicate something about the character – for example, where they’re from or what their childhood was like.

“What do you mean, the birds are in the air?” Ulea asked

“You know, you can’t stop the problem now, it’s out of your reach” Hanath answered, “you never heard of that one?”

You can also use it to build in some of the history in your world – so you could have an event or a particular historical figure used in conversation:

“You’re about as useful as a Green General,” Remy remarked.

“Hey,” Inea replied, “General Ulae did his best at the Battle of the Seven Rivers. No need to insult me.”

Now the reader is considering who General Ulae is, why they’re called the Green General, and what this battle was about. Clearly it was important enough for the characters to talk about it in conversation, and both know what they’re referring to. It’s a useful technique to draw attention to an event that is a key plot point without “infodumping” the information on a reader.

How to find your character’s voice

Think about how you talk to different people and different topics. Identify what changes when you speak – do you use different phrases? Different words? A different tone?

Now do the same exercise for each of your characters – how do they speak to people in authority? What about people they don’t like?

Understanding a Character’s voice means you need to understand your character. What are their drivers? What kind of world do they live in?

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