Unit 3: Voice and Character
Click below to watch a video of Érin introducing this third unit.
You pick up the phone and hear, “Hello. You're home, are you?” With just these words you know that Uncle Ed is calling. You turn on the radio and hear “…because the people deserve...” and immediately know which politician is speechifying.
When you literally hear a voice, you recognise it using subtle clues — accent, volume, tone, timbre, pitch, rhythm. As a writer you have only the choice and arrangement of words for creating a unique voice. Yet writers' voices are recognisable, too. They create patterns that approximate those vocal elements. As a reader you fall in love with voices and as a writer you may “try on” or imitate them in the process of finding your own.
Nadia sits across from me. She is petite and gestures delicately. She makes a point to the famous man beside me, who sweats while glugging his wine. Nadia's voice is light, her phrases follow each other steadily. The famous man takes more pie. He wipes his forehead with his napkin and flaps it toward Nadia as he replies to her question with a little explosion of sound. I miss some of what he says because his mouth is full. I think: She's smarter than he is, but he doesn't realise it because he's so impressed with his own fame. Underneath, he's terrified of being found out. He's going to eat and drink himself to death to fill the void.
I hardly know these people! How did I come to such conclusions?! Everything we know about others we know through our senses: outer expressing inner. Words and actions, which can be seen and heard, reveal character and feelings that can't.
Literature allows us a freedom that life does not, to be both inside and outside a character, to know thoughts as we can only know them in ourselves, while at the same time seeing the externals as we can for everyone except ourselves. In addition, literature can offer an authoritative voice to help us interpret and draw conclusions about the characters.
A spot of wordplay
To begin this unit, click through this slideshow of different scenes. What's going on in each situation? What is she saying, he feeling, and vice versa? There are no right or wrong answers — just use the table to type up ideas about the characters' thoughts or dialogue.
“Finding your own voice as a writer is in some ways like the tricky business of becoming an adult… you try on other people's personalities for size and you fall in love.” — A. Alvarez
When you are ready, click to move on to Narrative Voice