Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or on her author website.
We have reached Part Four of my four-part series on description. I hope I've given you some good tips for describing things in a fresh way. To recap, here are the links to the first three parts:
-10 Tips for Tight Descriptions
-How to Describe a Place
-How to Describe People
Today I want to talk about different ways to describe a voice. This is something I've rarely done in my books but find very powerful. Remember how we discussed using description flags/tags for characters to alert the reader to something unique about that person? A unique voice can be a great character flag.
Here are some different ways you could describe a character's voice:
What does the voice sound like? Is it high, low, soft, loud, gravely, musical? Does it give people chills or make them wince? Does the speaker have a lisp or a lilt to his or her voice? Perhaps the character is always yelling in an encouraging, coach-like way. Or maybe the character is a low-talker like Lilly Okanakamura in Pitch Perfect.
Here is a list of words you can use to describe your character's voice:
Angry, appealing, baritone, booming, breathy, casual, child-like, confident, creepy, croaking, direct, disembodied, dulcet, eerie, flat, formal, friendly, gentle, grating, gravelly, gruff, guttural, high-pitched, hoarse, humorous, husky, intelligent, laid-back, low, matter-of-fact, monotone, musical, nasal, quavering, quiet, raucous, rough, severe, sexy, shrill, singsong, smoky, smooth, soft-spoken, strangled, thick, thin, throaty, toneless, to-the-point, tremulous, warm, wheezy, and whiny.
Gender and Age
Is the speaker male or female? Young or old? If you have a different species in a fantasy novel, give us a clue as to how they sound compared to humans.
You can give characters accents to depict their coming from different geographic locations by having other characters notice said accents and by tweaking the character's dialogue. You don't have to do it often, but you do need to be consistent. Play with spelling, word choice, or syntax to create different dialects. If your accent is a real one from planet earth, study accents online to get it right. If you're making up a dialect for a fantasy world, keep a record of your words as sort of a quick-reference so you can remember what you did. Last year I wrote a blog post on how to write character dialects. Click here to read it.
Pet Words and Slang
Perhaps your character has a pet word or talks using slang. This can set a character's voice apart from others so long as you don't give every character a pet word or slang. In my Blood of Kings books, Achan was the only character to say "Pig Snout!" as an oath.
The dialogue you use for each character can sound different to the reader if you take care to choose carefully the word choice, sentence structure and length, punctuation, and accompanying dialogue and action tags. Is your character a gentle person? Or is he brusque, formal, or bossy? Check out these examples of very strong personalities. When they are speaking, the reader usually knows it!
A person who always seems angry in Markus Zusak's The Book Thief:
"Well, I'm Mama Number Two, then." She looked over at her husband. "And him over there." She seemed to collect the words in her hand, pat them together, and hurl them across the table. "That Saukerl, that filthy pig—you call him Papa, verstehst? Understand?"
The funny guy in my book The New Recruit:
I looked at Isaac until the cool air forced me to blink. He may as well have been speaking Russian. “What’s a field office?”
“It’s just like a regular office, but in a field,” Isaac said. “They sit in a shack on some hay bales.” Then he cracked a smile. “Naw, I’m just messing with you, newb."
The jerk in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:
"Ah, look, boys, it's the champion," [Malfoy] said to Crabbe and Goyle the moment he got within earshot of Harry. "Got your autograph books? Better get a signature now, because I doubt he's going to be around much longer... Half the Triwizard champions have died... how long d'you reckon you're going to last, Potter? Ten minutes into the first task's my bet."
One who talks to himself (and has a unique way of talking too) in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit:
“Bless us and splash us, my precioussss! I guess it’s a choice feast; at least a tasty morsel it’d make us, gollum!”
The same character might speak very differently when he is angry compared to when he is feeling nice. Don't forget to take his emotional state into consideration when you write his dialogue. If you're not sure how he'd respond, try and put yourself in his shoes and think through how you might reply in such a situation depending on the emotion you're looking to convey. Here is a list of emotions. How might your character respond differently in each mood?
Afraid, amazed, amused, angry, annoyed, anxious, bored, calm, cautious, concerned, confident, confused, curious, delighted, depressed, disappointed, disgusted, dismayed, disoriented, eager, elated, embarrassed, envious, exasperated, excited, exhausted, frustrated, grief-stricken, grumpy, guilty, happy, helpless, hesitant, hopeful, hopeless, humiliated, hurt, indifferent, infatuated, insecure, interested, intrigued, jealous, joyful, melancholy, nervous, optimistic, outraged, overwhelmed, panicked, proud, regretful, rejected, relieved, resentful, sad, satisfied, scared, scornful, shocked, suspicious, trusting, uncertain, uncomfortable, weary, worried.
What unique ways have you used a character's voice in your stories? Share in the comments.