Okay, bear with me. I’m always learning as a writer. It’s part of the writing process, really. But I learned something crucial.
There’s a difference between “just writing” and then writing with character voice.
1. For example, this is JUST WRITING:
“I went to the grocery store and saw my co-worker, Timothy, reloading plastic bags behind the counter. He had on sweats and a checked-shirt from some indie band. His hair was a mess, and dark circles burrowed into his eyes.
“Hey, Sri.” He sighed, handing me an apron. “Let’s get this shift started.’”
2. Example of CHARACTER VOICE writing:
“I ran into the grocery store with two minutes to spare, breathing like I just trekked Everest. Timothy, my co-worker, was spearing plastic bags onto the bagging-hooks like they were steaks on meat-racks. And meat hooks were about the worst thing that could ever happen to him; he was a vegetarian, after all.
Sweats and an indie shirt from some metal band, Skeleton Keys, nobody’d heard of rested on his skinny frame. Timothy had always been skinny, straddling the fine line between “lanky” and “recovering zombie”. His hair was a mess, per usual, and dark circles completed his hooker raccoon look.
“Hey, Sri.” He mumbled my name with all the gusto of a five-year old addressing steamed broccoli. “Welcome to hell.’”
Let me give you a hint. One of these passages was actually super fun to write. The other one was me writing like a robot.
You got it, it was the second one. The second one was super fun to write.
There’s a writing hint spilling around the writing world that you can have horrendous plot so long as you have stellar characters. Now, you might be thinking to yourself “don’t be stupid. I’d never watch/read/play something that had bad plot.” Well, let me one-up you by saying EVERY SUPERHERO MOVIE EVER. (Within reason). The Avengers? Transformers? Jurassic Park?
All those franchises can be summed up with: main characters fight giant CGI bad-guys.
WHY do people keep watching these? FOR. THE. CHARACTERS.
In Avengers, we want to hear Tony Stark wittily eviscerate Captain America. In Transformers, we think Optimus Prime is a leader badass. In Jurassic Park… Jeff Goldblum. (In the newer movies, we got one of Hollywood’s favorite Chris-es. Chris Pratt). We don’t care if the plot is the same every time. We never tire of superheroes, giant robots, and dinosaurs!
It’s the same thing with your writing. Ideally, you’ll have good plot AND good characters. But you can’t have a good plot WITHOUT good characters.
Your characters don’t even have to be good, they just have to be interesting. You think Hannibal Lecter is a good guy? Norman Bates? Sherlock’s an asshole, and so is Deadpool. But why do you stick around? They’re super smart, or witty, or have this charm that you can’t quite shake off. (Some of them, so terrifying, you’re scared to like them).
To write well, you need to have good character voice. Here’s my tips to find your character voice.
1. Know what your character’s like. Are they snarky? Describe other characters in a snarky manner. Are they super intelligent? Have them notice little details that you normally wouldn’t notice. Do your research in whatever field they specialize it.
2. Get into that character’s headspace. Know their motivations. A character can have more than one motivation. Revenge doesn’t have to be the only thing that fuels them if they feel just as passionately about the unicorn special that comes on once a week.
3. Dialogue. Dialogue. Dialogue. Readers love it when characters aren’t afraid to be witty. Call it wish-fulfillment, but we all want to be that person who has a fire comeback when somebody insults us.
4. Ask yourself if you’d truly care if that character died. If you say “nah”, then work on that character. Killing a cardboard-cutout doesn’t hurt. But killing off a character that feels so real that it’s a person, that stings!
5. Give them flaws. It’s cliche, but it’s not. NOBODY. IS. PERFECT. If you can’t find any flaws, then find ways to turn their positives into flaws. If they’re brave, make them impulsive/risky. If they’re kind, make them trust people too much in situations and inevitably get burned. If they’re smart, make them come off as arrogant at times. If they’re ambitious, have them sacrifice something for their blind ambition. If they’re strong, have them not know their own strength and have a lack of control.
These are just a few tips to give characters a little more, well, character. I hope it helps, my wonderful future best-sellers!