3 Creative Tricks to Find Your Character’s Voice

Live training this week: learn the secrets of story structure at our free, live training this week only. Learn more and sign up for free here.

Great characters feel real. They talk, act, and respond to stress in ways we recognize, with their own personal character voice. We can relate to them because they seem human.

3 Inspiring Writing Prompts to Find Your Character's Voice

To write a character that leaps off the page, we need to know them deeply. We need to understand their thoughts and feelings. If our audience is going to empathize with them, we have to first.

3 Writing Prompts to Discover Your Character's Voice

I find it easy to write characters who are like me, who see the world like I see it. Unfortunately, if all my characters are like me, my books are going to be pretty predictable. If we want our characters to stand out, we are going to have to write some who are different than us, to find a unique character voice for each one that's different from our own.

Here are three tricks I use to develop characters so they sound less like me and more like themselves:

1. Put your character on the couch.

In therapy, people talk freely about their inner thoughts and feelings. To get to know your character, pretend to be her therapist. Imagine she walks into your office and sits down on a couch across from you.

Start the session with the question, “Thanks for coming in today. What do you want to talk about?” As your character talks, make sure you get to the heart of her concerns with questions like “How does that make you feel?” and “What were you thinking when that happened?”

Additionally, when your character says something you find unusual or exaggerated, ask your character to elaborate on it. One way to do this is to reflect back to your character what she said. “So what I hear you saying is …” This will give your character the opportunity to think through what she said and comment on her own thoughts and feelings.

Focus on writing the dialogue only. Don’t worry about how your character is sitting or what the room looks like. Just ask your character questions and let her talk.

2. Write your character’s morning routine.

The point of writing your character’s morning routine is to get a feeling for what your character is like when the spotlight isn’t on her, when life is mundane. If you know how your character acts and feels under normal circumstances, you will get a better feel for how they are when circumstances force them to change. The transformation you write for her will be clearer.

What’s the first thing your character does when she wakes up? Does she love mornings or hate them? What does she think when she first looks in the mirror? Does she brush her teeth before or after breakfast? How does she fix her coffee? What does she eat? Is it the same thing every morning or does she try and change it up?

Answer these questions by writing a scene that starts with your character waking up in the morning.

3. Create a mood spectrum.

During a story, your character is going to face a lot of different circumstances. Some of these situations will make your character happy. Some of them will make your character upset.

Draw a line on a piece of paper. On the left side of the line write, “Terrible Mood.” One the right, write, “Amazing Mood.” Then, in the middle, write the words, “Normal Mood.”

Under the words “Normal Mood,” write six adjectives that describe how your character behaves when everything is routine. How does your character act under ordinary circumstances?

Now, imagine your character just got fantastic news. Write six adjectives under the words “Amazing Mood” that describe how your character behaves when everything is going her way.

Finally, imagine something awful happened and your character is incredibly sad. Write six adjectives under the words “Terrible Mood.”

Your final step is to put the whole picture together. Starting in the middle, read your line out loud to yourself.

“When my character is in a normal mood, she is _______________. When good things happen and she is in an amazing mood, she is _______________; but when bad things happen and she is in a terrible mood, she is _______________.”

Now pick an event that would move your character from a normal mood to an extreme mood. Write that scene and convey your character’s transformation.

Your Characters Are Unique

Be adventurous and create a diverse set of characters that act, think, feel, and respond to things differently than you do by getting to know them before you write them. Your audience will be more likely to connect with your characters if you connect with them first.

How do you get to know your character and discover their unique character voice? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Pick one of the three exercises above and spend fifteen minutes doing it. Post your work in the practice box below and offer some feedback to a few other writers, too.

Enter your practice here:

Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."

Live Training: The Write Structure

Live Training This Week

Join us LIVE: This week, bestselling author Joe Bunting is teaching a live training on how to use story structure to write and publish a bestselling book. Best of all, it’s free! But it’s happening this week only, so sign up now!

13 Comments

  1. Azure Darkness Yugi

    My character is groggy when she wakes up, The very first thing she does is eat breakfast. She can’t do anything unless she has food in her. Because she’s half asleep, eats kind of messy. One done, does some morning stretches. Then turns on the TV watch some cartoons as her sister takes hours in the bathroom. If her sister takes too long she’ll fall back to sleep and wont wake up unless food is involved. Or if her sister jumps on her. When it’s her turn to use the bathroom spends a maximum of five minutes. If clothes her not prepared for her in advance she’ll still wear the clothes she woke up in.

    Reply
    • Jeff Elkins

      I love the description. Do you feel like it helps you get a feel for her? How does she change when she is stressed?

      Reply
      • Azure Darkness Yugi

        It does big time. Under stressful situations her dark nature awakens because she’s apart of an alien race that only cares about two things, battle and conquest. Her race is called the race with many faces. That’s why she has an appearance of a human. Her biggest struggle is to keep her alien nature under control.

        Reply
        • Jeff Elkins

          I love the contrast between her mundane and her coming alive in the action. That’s going to be a great character. Your dialog should really pop.

          Reply
  2. Kaeli King

    Thanks so much for this! I have trouble making my characters 3D and lively, they usually lack unending intricacies that make us human. I can’t wait to try these and see some results!

    Reply
  3. EndlessExposition

    Used Prompt #2 to make some progress on my WIP. Reviews are always appreciated!

    The inaugural day of operations for Morton County Forensic Lab dawned early if not bright. I woke at 6:30 to a tentative grey sunrise peeking into my bedroom. I lay in bed for a few minutes, feeling a bit like it was my birthday. That is, wondering if I was supposed to be any different today from how I had been yesterday, and finding the answer was no. I changed into my running clothes and left for my morning jog.

    Running, like reading, took me out of myself; it was one of the things I had missed most while I was recuperating from my crackup. I wasn’t quite back to my old physique yet, so I was going easy and running thirty minutes every day instead of an hour. Now that I had been in Briar Creek for a month, I was developing a regular route. I cut through downtown, past the shuttered shop windows, up into a residential neighborhood. My feet carried me along rows of somnolent clapboard houses shaded by trees, making a loop until I was back at the Brewing Gale.

    I had finally unearthed the kettle last week. I took a shower while it boiled. I made myself a large mug of tea and a small breakfast, eating in my underwear on the couch. Then came the step of the morning routine I always dreaded: getting dressed.

    I’ve never been beautiful, as women go, or fashionable either. I’m five foot four and muscular, with more freckles than a leopard and red hair that’s closer to orange if I’m being honest with myself. When I wasn’t working I could reliably be found in a bomber jacket, jeans, and my ancient Adidas sneakers. If I was feeling adventurous, I might swap out the Adidas for an equally ancient pair of combat boots. I seemed to have been born without the feminine talent for effortless chic. But I noticed back in med school that the Bend It Like Beckham look doesn’t fly in a professional setting.

    Today of all days I figured I ought to put some thought into my outfit. But try as I might, I couldn’t convince myself that it really mattered. I would spend most of my work hours wearing scrubs and someone else’s guts. After agonizing in front of my closet, I eventually decided on an Oxford shirt, black trousers, and flats. I swiped on a bit of mascara, and, upon assessing the ensemble in the mirror, deemed myself ready to face the day.

    Reply
    • Talha Karim

      This is a really detailed character description. I love how you’ve integrated an intrusive insight as to who you’re character is. I can highly relate to some of the morning routines you struggle with, especially the fact that getting ready is one hell of a tedious job to do. Nice work!!!

      Reply
    • Ashley Hampton

      Awesome description of the character. I could see her in my head plain as day. Great job. Always love your writing!

      Reply
  4. TerriblyTerrific

    I read somewhere that the character “Sherlock Holmes” was believed to be a real person, because he had human characteristics. I think he was an alcoholic?

    Reply
    • EndlessExposition

      Holmes was a cocaine addict. And his methods of deduction were based on those of Dr. Joseph Bell, a famous surgeon of the time, but the similarities more or less ended there.

      Reply
  5. Diane in Orlando

    She woke up way to early that morning, not really sure where or who she was today. One eye opened tentatively and fixed on the dark pit in the fold of a blanket. It wasn’t her blanket. Her throbbing head was reeling and the mounting buzz in her body felt strange. Then she remembered why.

    Reply
  6. Sonya Ramsey

    I rolled over in my bed and their he was so young and fine his arms folded under his head with muscles screaming for freedom of the stretch. I cant believe I did this again slept with someone I met at a party. Yes I do he was so fine when he walked over an introduce himself to me in those black denim jeans and bright red shirt that accelerated his large chest and arm muscles. However, its morning now and I have to shower and get to the post If I want my job my boss warned me last week if I am late again I would be terminated. I need coffee and he needs to wake up by the time I return to my room. I showered and dress he was still sleep I walked over to his side of the bed and kiss him gently on the cheek no movement I rubbed his back so gentle and ruff at the same time no movement I started shaking him no movement I rolled him over felt for a pulse he is died what in my bed, I really need my coffee strong with sugar and creamer, then I will call the authorities. I guess I am looking for another job now.

    Reply
  7. Beauty

    My hair was tousled from too much action last night. Drinking. I wonder what people would think I was going to say? I need to brush my teeth, get this alcohol off my breath because I forgot to last night, comb my hair. After that, I need to repeat the cycle. Go out, drink again. Go out, drink again. Sounds well off. An image of a man I met last night came to mind, would I see him again? Wow, my train of thoughts is going too far. Settle down, Fire. Settle down. A name my parents had given to me since birth because quote ‘she looks like a rebel’ something I hate. I was sure my brows furrowed. Don’t put me in a category, keep that for your future children, not me. I said it. That’s what I told them when I was younger after they annoyed me. Funny times. After everything I just said which I can’t remember right now but it should come back to me, healthy toast to keep the body right and the air tight that’s what I’d do. Then a snack to keep me going. What do I add with the toast, maybe some avocado and red pepper flakes? Haha, red pepper. Like fire. Seriously, what were those people thinking did you give birth to me in flames or something woman? Am I a camp? What kind of name is Fire? Why don’t you add a pond to the end? Bleh, this toothpaste taste kind of funny, I’m not tasting it yet, but it taste kind of funny. Haha! I went to my mirror in the bathroom. Brown eyes, long black hair, my eyes were dark by the way, dark brown — that’s it. No tan except a little warm undertone or maybe neutral who knows? Let me think about it… Nope. Warm. Warm undertone. I checked my booty out, a little shake didn’t hurt either. Yes, they did good with you caliber, yes. Woo! That guy from last night. I’m the one that approached him, what was I thinking? That I’m hot? Yes, yes I am. That I had on a cute net dress? Yes, yes I did. Sometimes, I can’t help it with you girl. You’re like fire! I started brushing my teeth, got you, no I didn’t! Now I put the toothpaste on the toothbrush. What a night it was.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. How to Prepare for Writing a Book: 4 Steps - […] hardest thing for me to get right in a novel is each character’s voice. When I’m comfortable with a…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

102
Share to...