Thursday, 25 March 2010

Listening to the Voices

One of the blog posts I read this morning was about characters. She asked her blog readers how they go about making each character have a distinctive voice. It made me think - long and hard - until I remembered something I read somewhere  - learn to eavesdrop!

In the modern world of technology, the next time you get asked to a party (and it may be sooner than me because of my cheesy salsa incident) take along a voice recorder. Discreetly place your cellphone (mobile) or other listening device on the table amongst the chatty Cathys and press the record button. At the end of the night, go home and listen to the recording.

Write down each person's name and their dialog. It will surprise you (or maybe not) that you will recognize each individual just by the sound of their voice. You will also notice that each person has their own speech pattern and special phrases.

That's distinctive voice.

Now, just because people have distinctive voice doesn't mean we want to write like we speak. Why? Because most of our conversation (I would say at least 50%) is filled with babble and small talk. Whereas dialog in a book should 6 elements:
  • 1)It should always move the story forward
  • 2)It should make sense to the reader
  • 3)It should end. Who wants to read an hour's worth of conversation?
  • 4)It should have a point.
  • 5)It should tell us more about the character
  • 6)It should be interesting and meaningful
Tomorrow I'm going to show some distinctive voice traits and how to write them so they don't irritate the reader. Enjoy the rest of your day! See you later...

 Picture Source: here

Great post about descriptions at Random acts of Writing.

Elizabeth at Mystery Writing is Murder lists six really important questions you should ask about your plot.

Rayna, uses a great example to show how important it is to know your readers.


Unknown said...

Always some brilliant post!!!! I love this one! I have never thought about it before but the next time I'm at a party (this weekend!!!) I plan on recording the conversation! It should help the dialogue problem I have!

Ann Elle Altman said...

I forgot to add, perhaps you should get permission to record people if in your country they like to sue.


Ann Elle Altman said...

You could also tell them that you're a writer and as such make no money whatsoever. You want to sue me!? You (insert obscenity here)! Now, press record, that should get you some really interesting conversation.


Lorel Clayton said...

That's a fantastic idea! You may also end up with good blackmail material :)
I'll definitely have to try that. Thanks!

Jemi Fraser said...

As a teacher, I have finely tuned my eavesdropping skills! It helps in all parts of my life :)

Ann Elle Altman said...

Lorel, great idea, so, if they do sue you, you have the money to pay them.

Jemi, we as writers have great listening skills. However, I'm often so lost in thought that I rarely hear what anyone says.


Anastasia V. Pergakis said...

I love to people watch - and listen. It has gotten me into trouble a few times but I still can't help myself! It is a great way to get inspiration for a story!

I look forward to reading the next post about this.

Anonymous said...

Ann - There's nothing like really listening to people - real people - to learn how distinctive voices work. As a linguist, I'm fascinated by shades of difference in people's choice of language, diction, word choice and the like. I think that gives our characters personality, and it's an important part of what makes people remember characters. It makes characters come alive.

You raise an interesting question about recording, too. People may speak differently when they know they're being recorded from the way they speak otherwise, but I still think it's a good idea to let them know. I guess that's my academic background rearing its head. When you do resaerch, the ethical thing to do is let people know they are "on the air."

Faith Pray said...

Fascinating exercise. Whether you record the strangers or not, who doesn't end up with moments to eavesdrop in public every now and then? Plenty of time to study and listen for different voices.

Natasha said...

Lovely post. Never thought of recording a conversation before, but I do eavesdrop shamelessly. And I am from a country where people have the most intimate conversations/ confessions in the most public of places, so eavesdropping is even more fun.

And thank you for linking to my post.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Harley, I'm glad you liked it, and I will try to make it just as entertaining tomorrow.

Margot, yes. And you have a truly interesting profession. I love how some linguist can know where a person comes from based on their dialect or speech patterns.

Faith, yes. And it's amazing how much we can learn if we really try.


whiteshark0121 said...

I love writing and reading books. I love the notion that people can make things up in their mind and then make them real on a page, for the pleasure or utility of someone else. One of my favorite mentor on learning how to write a book is Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Thank you, Whiteshark, I'm sure many authors are flattered by your comment.


Terry Odell said...

One other dialogue tip: Dialogue has to sound like real speech, even though it isn't "real" speech.

Tahereh said...

great great post!! thank you!! (will slip sneaky slithery recorder in purse NOW!) tehe

Talli Roland said...

Thanks for the great post, Ann! I love eavesdropping. There are some fascinating people around me - in particular, the market vendors at Portobello. I love how they talk, the cadence of their speech...

Have a great weekend!

TirzahLaughs said...

I commented on this post but my replay is gone. Here it goes again.

I always hear my characters speaking. I just have to be fast enough to write down their words.



Angela Fristoe said...

Very interesting idea! Today I went to the mall to people watch, not really to listen but just to watch how they interacted with each other, and the little things they do that tell about them. Very eye-opening and I think I even have the start of a new character! :) Ang

Nishant said...

perhaps you should get permission to record people if in your country they like to sue.
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