6 Exercises to Find Your Character's Voice

Posted by Jess

Each scenario is built to reveal different aspects of a personality. Some of these may not be relevant to the world of your story, so by all means tweak them to fit into the world you’ve created. Grab a notebook, a pencil, and get ready to jump into the heads of your characters!

Scenario #1: Dealing with a bully.
Have your character react to being bullied, or perhaps he or she is the one doing the bullying, maybe they’re witnessing someone else being bullied, or it’s possible that they don’t even notice the incident or care. Would this character interfere? Turn a blind eye? Egg it on? Would they stand up for themselves? Fight back? Laugh and walk away?

This reveals how the character deals with confrontation and conflict. It uncovers their values, their confidence level, whether they’re a leader, a follower, or blind to the plight of others. It also shows how others view this character. However, more importantly, it reveals how strong the character is mentally. A character's mental state dictates what they say out loud.

Scenario #2: Getting Pulled over by the police for speeding.
How your character(s) react(s) when they see the flashing lights… as they park on the side of the road while glancing in the rearview mirror… how they speak to the officer. Do they fix their hair in the mirror first, tap their fingers on the steering wheel, wipe their hands on their jeans, curse, check out the officer as he’s approaching the car?

All of this reveals how the character views, and reacts, to authoritative figures. Every story has some form of authority whether it is a boss, a parent, a tyrannical government. Tweak this by using the authoritative force in your story. For instance, if this were the Hunger Games you could use President Snow. This is a good way to find out what your character thinks vs. what he or she actually does. It also reveals how much power they think they have vs. how much they actually have.

 Scenario #3: A stranger tells them they're cute.
A confident character may respond with ease, flirt back, seal the deal, or perhaps not respond at all if they're overly confident. A self-conscious character might try to justify the compliment or question it: "She didn’t really mean that" OR "He’s only talking to me because no one else asked me to dance" OR "It’s only because Macy put makeup on me." Maybe the character will start babbling, telling awkward jokes, or reveal some other quirk that’s lurking inside them. Your job is to find that quirk!

This exercise reveals a character’s confidence level, but mostly it reveals how the character views and feels about him or herself. And that is where the juicy stuff is!

Scenario #4: Have one character write a letter to another.
Have your character write a letter to their best friend in the story explaining what’s happening to him or her [in this point of the story]. OR you can have the character write a letter to the antagonist, or a love interest, or a parent.

This especially helps me when I have writer’s block because it allows the character to speak freely. It reveals how the character feels about their current situation, as well as their level of comfort with the character to which they are writing. Notice how their diction changes depending on whom they're addressing.

Scenario #5: Shopping in a department store, grocery store, or whatever kind of store your story’s world would have.
Your character can be shopping alone, or with a group of friends. What do they buy, where do they go, what type of items do they window shop for? Maybe they hate shopping and they’re pissed that they’re at the mall. Maybe they run into another character while they’re there. Just roll with it, and see what happens.

This reveals how your character acts in public, how they view the public, how they view the ideals of the society in which they live. Something that comes to mind is a scene from the movie Fight Club (my absolute favorite movie! I literally watch it at least twice a month!) In the scene, Brad Pitt and Ed Norton are standing on a bus. Norton looks at a Gucci ad and says, “Is that what a man looks like?” Pitt laughs. A few beats later a stranger bumps into Pitt and both characters size up the stranger. These are the types of situations you should put your characters in for this exercise. Have them glance at the ads in the store, the other people walking around, the actual products. Think of all of the times you’ve gone shopping. Now put your characters into those memories.

Scenario #6: Two characters have dinner together.
It could be in a restaurant, at a bar, a taco truck, or a home cooked meal. If these characters wouldn’t normally have dinner together and they are out of their element, express that! Show it! Let them be awkward with each other. See how they behave when they’re out of their comfort zone. Or perhaps the characters click and form a bond that you didn’t see coming. Like I said before, just roll with it and see what happens.
Start off with just two characters at a time, and then when you feel more comfortable with their personalities, add more guests.

This exercise isn’t about creating scenes for your story, it’s about revealing how your characters feel about each other, how they express those feelings, and more importantly, how they speak to each other. (That is what we're looking for!)

Your options are endless with this type of development because you can literally throw your characters into any type of situation. As your character weaves through each scenario you'll start to see patterns in their speech, their actions, and their thoughts. I like to highlight these patterns when I reread what I wrote. I also highlight random dialogue and actions that ring true as I'm writing. It may take your characters a bit to warm up, but you'll definitely leave each scenario learning something about them.

Keep in mind, the scenarios you use should be basic. They should be ordinary, every day situations because it's a lot easier to pinpoint characteristics when there's not an overload of emotions involved. Once you pinpoint your character’s quirks, thoughts, reasoning, and view of him/herself and their world, then it will be much easier to amp up those traits when say their best friend is killed in battle or they’re caught by the enemy or when they're interacting with their love interest. Uncover the basics then amp it up for your story. As I’ve said time and time again, just roll with it and see what happens!

If there's an exercise that you use to find your character's voice let me know in the comments below! I'm always looking for techniques to add to my tool belt. Hope this post helped!

Until next time,

No comments:

Post a Comment