Voices, voices everywhere, all telling me what to do.
Ganhdi once said “The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within.” Does this mean that authors have worlds of little tyrants all demanding they be written into existence? We created and hone these voices until they gain faces and style and story and quirks and finally a voice that others can hear as well. See, it’s not schizophrenia if others can hear it too, right?
Characters and characterization tend to be very important to me. There’s the plot and conflict carrying them along from misadventure to misadventure until they learn how to be masters and mistresses of their own fate (well, at least for a short time). However, the characters have to be relatable and real to make the story interesting and my readers care. And that’s not just the good guys. We all want to feel a part of the hero/heroine. See something of ourselves there in the hope that we can raise ourselves to such heights and overcome the obstacles we encounter. Thus making the characters real and concrete enough for others to hear and see while making them broad enough so everyone can slip into their shoes if they try is no mean trick.
But what of our villains? Villains need love, too. This doesn’t mean you have to like the villain by any stretch of the imagination. Nor should you want to cheer for them. They have to be just as relatable and real as the hero/heroine or they lose their punch and become caricatures. Even in the movies, some of the villains I most remember I don’t like at all. I HATE them, but I LOVE hating them. Very often it is because their motivations and actions are believable. Not understandable (we’re not psychopaths) but believable. We are not all murderous cannibals, but something within us loves the suave control of Hannibal Lecter and his intellect. Moriarty is a cold blooded killer with no regard for human life, but his ability to think around Holmes makes us marvel at his brain. Very often we love the villains because they represent the darker shadow side of ourselves just begging to be let out. They do the things we want to, only to a much greater extreme.
But hero or villain or sidekick or reflection, each character has his/her own voice. How he sounds. What vocal pauses she uses. Vocal ticks. Voice helps the image of the character come more alive in the imagination of the reader. I use full character and vocal sheets to create the character fully so I won’t forget who says what in what way, especially over multiple books.
Then comes the added trick of writing a character’s voice from a time not our own. I am faced with that right now. I am writing character in the 1830’s, a time with speech and etiquette very different from my own. Added to that, my main character is a male Irish doctor living in the 1830’s. Having to get the gentile nature of the time, the turns of phrases and the accent all wrapped up into one phrase is fun, exciting, interesting and a pain. But he’s starting to take fuller shape on the page, especially as people are dying all around him. It’s sink or swim time and the devil’s at the door, maybe for real, and his voice is reflecting it.
Benjamin Disraeli said it well, “There is no index of character so sure as the voice.”