13.13: Character Voice

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard

Character voice, the flow, order, and feel of words that is unique to a particular character, is extremely useful in defining characters for the reader. In this episode we discuss our tools for shaping character voices, and the ways in which we make sure each one unique.

Liner Notes: We talked about authorial voice in episode 12.10, and about 1st-person Voice in 12.2

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Rewrite an existing bit of text using three different POVs: An eighty-year old, a twelve-year-old, and someone from a foreign country.

Defy the Stars by Claudia Grey

16 thoughts on “13.13: Character Voice”

  1. Great episode. Really liked Brandon’s comments on laughter as an indicator of effectiveness–reminded me immediately of Abercrombie (specifically, the characters Gorst and to a lesser degree, Glokta.) His books aren’t for everyone, but with regard to character voice, I think Joe writes in the tightest third person I’ve ever encountered. Very immersive. Hard to look past as both great reading and an incredible study resource.

  2. You just launch that episode when I was working on writing four chapters, each with a different character and voice, so thank you, that’s going to be useful quite quiclkly! :)
    (I follow you since many months, you guys are amazing, your podcast is a true masterpiece, so thank you so much for the episodes!)

  3. Am I the only one who can’t listen to the episode complelty? It stops around eleven minutes and when I try to download it, it says “complete file missing”.

    1. I played it back, in its entirety, from the website, so the complete file does not appear to missing there. Browser cache? Download it again?

      1. I tried to downaload it with my phone and it worked, so apparently it was a browser/computer problem. Thank you! I apologise for the disturbance.

  4. Thank you, Mary, for that last bit of wisdom. (OK, thanks everyone for the whole episode.) But to the point, so many dialogue exercises insist I make the characters so unique that they don’t require dialogue tags. I thought that’s how my whole novel needed to be written!

    But then you added that last piece: Most of us have neutral dialogue between our personal “tells,” so every piece of dialogue does not have to be unique. That’s overkill.

    I yelled, “Thank you!” (My boys looked at me like I was weird, but I get that look a lot.)

  5. Speaking of regionalisms and the “clever a-hole” trope, I was immediately reminded of Peter Dinklage’s character in the alien invasion TV series Threshold, who is a linguist and mathematician and used to being the smartest guy in the room.

    In one scene they are interviewing a pilot and Dinklage asks him, “What part of southern Ohio are you from?” He then explains to the boss why that stood out for him: the guy said “please?” when previously he said “excuse me?” In that context, “please” is part of the vernacular of that part of the country. I can verify this is true because I grew up there. Further, the pilot pronounces “reroute” as “re-ROOT” where an Easterner would say “RE-rout”, another thing specific to that dialect.

    You can see the scene here between 2:15 and 4:15 – https://youtu.be/eKfz11RCQDM

    Contrast with the movie The 5th Wave, which is also about an alien invasion and also takes place between Cincinnati and Dayton. In that movie *no one* talks like they’re from Ohio. Not just accents but how they phrase things. They don’t even pronounce place names correctly. For instance, they keep referring to the Air Force base as “Wright-Patterson”. No one in the area says that. Locals call it “Wright-Patt.”

    (Bonus example: In the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, Pierce Brosnan refers to Lima, Ohio, by pronouncing it like the city in Peru: “Lee-ma”. But Ohioans pronounce it “lime-ah”.)

  6. Is there where to send questions for a Q and A episode? If so,

    The last book I read where the narrator, who is not a character, broke the fourth wall very well was Oliver Twist. I also saw it in BLEAK HOUSE by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Does this still work well with modern audiences (King and Straub have no rules, I realize)? Are there any pitfalls?

  7. And this week we have the original foursome, happily chewing the fat about voice, character voice, with a side dish of narrator voice. The aesthetic voice, that is. Dropping down the gravity well or falling into a rabbit hole, they’ve got lots of tips on how to use voice to make your story memorable. Spunky sarcastic YA, the area of intention, and more emphasis. Go ahead, read the transcript available in the archives or over here


    And you’ll find out why voice belongs in your writer’s toolbox.

  8. Can you please do a lesson on expressing difficult emotions? It seems people react very negatively to characters who actually express any emotions at all (“why are they crying like a little bitch?” “They were just raped…and didn’t like it.”). It’s confusing to me.

    Do people want emotionless puppets?

    1. In some works and to a degree in some genres, characters tend to over-emote, and there’s some backlash against that.

      Some readers want their heroes to exemplify a “stoic” ideal of being too strong to be hurt by anything.

      As an aside, I really wish that particular event hadn’t somehow become the go-to example for emotional trauma or character ordeals.

      1. Sorry, that was actually the part of a recent conversation I had, not just an example. I didn’t mean to bother. I could have used a different one though.

        It seems very contradictory to me that people want to see their characters put into terrible situations, but feel nothing about it. As someone writing for an audience, it makes it very hard to make realistic stories.

        1. It’s not you — it’s a problem in fiction in general.

          Writer wants to give a female character a tense backstory? Wants to put her through a “transformative trauma”? It happened/happens to her.

          Writer wants to give a male character ironclad unquestionable motivation? It happens to a woman he cares about.

          It strikes me both as a cliche, and as a facet of the way female characters are disproportionately “defined by” sex.

          1. You’re on a non sequiturial topic. I just wanted to them to do a lesson on characters expressing emotions.

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