Monday, 9 January 2012

Writing Diary #57 - character voice

Originally posted to Wittegen Press LJ.

I'm currently reading a murder mystery, which I'm kind of enjoying, but if I hear one more Scot say Aye instead of Yes uniformly, I think I might just start screaming.

I am not a Scot, I'm English, but I know quite a few and Scots accents come in many, many different variations and not every Scot studying in Aberdeen will speak the same, in fact, given students' penchant for moving as far away from their families as possible while going to University, I'd say the chances are they'd have very different accents to the locals. This little bug bear did get me thinking about character voice in the literal and non-literal sense my own stories.

The YA vampire novel I'm working on, when I first started it way back in the dim and distant past, was set in the US, California to be precise, mainly due to the influence of US TV and films on me, but I realised almost as long ago that transporting it across the water to my home country was a better bet, not just because I wanted to get the character voices right, but also because I didn't have many US friends at the time to do any US-picking for me. I don't think I'd even attempt it now, even with their help, well, possibly New England, because I've visited there quite a few times for work, or maybe up to Canada, to Vancouver, again, because I have a little feel for the place, but I'd have to have a really good reason.

Transplanting to the UK was not without the need for accent research, however, since I decided to make one of my characters Welsh. Now, I know some Welsh folks, I even visit a friend in South Wales regularly, but I decided I needed some help on his accent to get it into my head. Youtube proved to be my friend and I found several vids of a voice coach talking about the Welsh accent. Now, talking about a 'Welsh' accent is a bit like talking about an 'English' or 'American' accent, we all know there is a huge variation within one country, but, I was looking for the essence of the accent, since my book is not set in Wales, and there's only one Welsh character, so I didn't need to consider variation.

For Welsh, I wanted to capture the sing-song way the words lilt, which requires picking certain words and tweaking the way they are arranged, and I also thought about what epithets and little sayings my Welsh character would use, but not overuse. I resisted using Boyo, which I have heard many a time from Gareth Thomas' lips in many a TV show, because, although evidently used frequently by a Welshman, I cringed when I tried it in a sentence :).

Of course, character voice isn't all about accent. This guy is a main character, but I only write from one POV, my protagonist, so you never get to see the world from my Welshman's POV, but he can certainly express that POV in conversations with Tom and in his actions. He's also important to past and present, so his world view, his voice, is visible even when he isn't speaking.

I don't work through my characters ad nauseam when I write, sometimes I let scenes develop on their own and inform my characters' voices and actions and instinct, I find, often does well where too much planning can flatten a scene. However, I do need to get into the head of my characters for that instinct to work.

Today, I want to finally get to writing some of the YA vampire novel. I did do some rereading, but not much, but I'm feeling in a more writing mood today :).

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