Rather than write about something I'm good at I thought I write about something I'm struggling with, and my attempts to resolve it. Writing characters with distinct voices.
Comics are usually conversations between characters. Speech bubbles are the preferred way to tell comic stories, as opposed to large chunks of text in boxes. The trouble is it's too easy for all the characters to speak with one voice … which is usually your own.
When your hard-boiled detective character and your high society debutante suspect are talking it doesn't ring true if they have the same speech patterns, grammar, vocabulary and slang. The sultry torch singer and the streetwise punk shouldn't speak like some middle-aged git in New Zealand sitting at a computer, yet if I'm not very careful that's exactly what happens. All my characters default to my speech patterns. Female, male, young, old, alien … it's a struggle to give them a unique voice. And the more alike the characters are to each other the worse it gets. So what can you do?
Speaking lines out loud can help. I've even experimented with tape machines and computer speech to text programs in the past. But, I'm a poor actor, and my spoken characters default to bad accents and exaggerated quirks rather than believable traits. Also, when my family are about it results in laughter and distractions rather than writing.
The various experts and bloggers on the subject can get rather technical; not that that's necessarily a bad thing. I've read I should be thinking about my characters in terms of their vocabularies, education levels, regional backgrounds, race, gender, hobbies, confidence levels, age and other social differences. Writing all that out for each character could be a very useful exercise, but, for me at least, getting that straight for every single spoken line makes the process of writing very slow and tedious. If that's something that works for you I'm in awe. I'm just not that organised and detail orientated.
Listening to how people speak in real life makes sense, except I'm stuck in my house writing. I do get out and about, and I do like to eavesdrop, but I'm not sure how useful it would be to base characters on the people in my immediate neighbourhood. They all tend to be a fairly uniform social-economic demographic. Still, listening is fun.
Do you ‘hear’ your characters talk to you? Robert E. Howard supposedly said that Conan was a figure that stood behind him and told him his life's story, and all he had to do was type it out as it was told. As I fan of the Conan stories I can't help think that's a simplification, since they are not written in first person and have asides and plot points a witness-narrator would not know about. But I sort of understand the principle. A few characters have got into my head and bounced their words around the large empty spaces they have found within. But only a few. Howard never claimed all the other characters he wrote about were as real to him as Conan, yet he wrote about them anyway. You can't wait for every character to talk to you.
My current solution, based on advice culled from the internet, is to give my characters a set of common words and catchphrases. This seems to be considered the lowest in the hierarchy of literally methods for creating distinct character voices, but it is easier.
So, for my latest ensemble comic script I've created a short set of words for each character to default to, to which I'm always adding and subtracting. Here's a few of them …
Chas: Yeah, nah, what? never, always, you reckon? (overconfident)
Dave: Yup, nope, huh?, maybe, hmm, I don't know. (circumspect, but disbelieving)
Tommy: yes, no, gosh, really? mister, please. um … ? (weak, subservient)
Mrs Bartender: Oi! Stop that! Get out! What can I get ya? Never. Not going to happen. (strong, in control)
Pamela: honestly, dear me, oh my, well I never, morals, decency (secretly seductive)
Trixie: Daddy, wot? nah, yer, sod off, oooh, c'mon, lovely (agressive, but sweet)
I don't often remember to put these is as I'm fantically writing, which is often a steam, or a trickle, of consciousness. Sometimes I have no idea who is talking in a scene until after I've written it. So the draft suffers from everyone-sounds-like-me-itis; which is a terrible, but not terminal condition. However, when I'm editing I can change some of the noes to nahs, the yeses to yups, and the ums to hmms. This at least gives each character a fairly consistent way of speaking.
Does this work? I'm not sure. I'm probably not the best one to judge the results. At the very least, however, it keeps the idea of distinct voices in my head as I write and edit.
How do you deal with this problem? Do you have any tips or tricks that allow you to craft unique, believable voices for your comic book protagonists? How much does any of this matter?
Thank you so much to Gunwallace for writing today's newspost! If any of you want to help save my sanity during this oh-so-fun end of semester time by writing a guest newspost, please let me know!
rmccool's public humiliation is ending after 1970 pages!
Ropsenshtils and Shiznagsingerzuppe has hit 75 pages!
Have a comic milestone, a community project or some comic-related news that you'd like to see here? Do you have original art for our newspost image database? Send it to me via PQ or at hippievannews(at)gmail.com, or leave a comment below!
HippieVan at 12:00AM, April 15, 2016
©2011 WOWIO, Inc. All Rights Reserved Google+