Monday, October 20, 2008

Camy Tang on Distinct Character Voices

I'm thrilled to welcome my good friend and fellow Seekerville blogger Camy Tang today! One thing I've loved about Camy's books, Sushi for One, Only Uni, and now Single Sashimi, is that her characters have such distinct voices. Each of the cousins is very unique. So I asked her to tell us how she does it. After reading, be sure to check the link in her bio. She's having a huge website contest and book giveaway!

Now, here's Camy...

Hi there! Missy asked me to guest blog today about how to make character voices distinct.

1) First of all, the different characters in your story should sound VERY distinct to you in your own head.

If you “listen” to your own characters, and if you notice that two male characters sound alike or two female characters sound alike, you need to refine your characters more so that their personalities are more distinct.

Because here’s the key: Distinct personalities will naturally create distinct character voices.

For my Sushi series, Lex is an Amazon—headstrong, aggressive, athletic, blunt.

Venus is also aggressive and blunt, but she’s a sharper tool—she’s more refined than Lex, she’s organized and efficient, she’s very professional whereas Lex is more casual.

Their two voices sound very different to me in my head. Lex’s voice is more brash, a bit unconventional. Venus’s voice is more educated, elegant, but piercing.

2) Next is to try to convey those distinct voices down on paper.

Sometimes, that involves a bit of exaggeration when you write a character’s dialogue, because if the character voice differences are too subtle, it won’t come across well on the page.

Character voices differ in many aspects, which include:
Word choice
Sentence length
Action beats

Word choice and cadence/rhythm are what most often distinguish character voices in a novel, but you can play with other aspects to make characters more distinct from each other.

In my Sushi series, Lex’s vocabulary is filled with sports cant, and her word choices are middle school or high school level. Her rhythm and cadence is loping and casual.

Venus’s vocabulary is highly educated, college level. Her word choices reflect her business and video game development background—technical and professional. Her rhythm tends to be more clipped and logical.

3) Observe different character voices.

My favorite exercise is to watch movies with the same actor in them, playing very different character roles. I listen to the actor’s speech, rhythm, and watch body language.

In doing this kind of “research,” I get ideas about how to make my own character voices more distinct.

4) Write your characters in the same situation.

This is an excellent exercise for helping you define the characters’ voices. Take each character and put him/her in the exact same situation. Then have the character retell the situation and their reaction in their own voices.

If two characters tell the same situation similarly, then you need to go back to the drawing board to further refine their personalities to make them more distinct.

But if you’ve done a good job deepening personalities, the different characters should recount the same situation in very different ways.

Thanks for having me guest blog, Missy!

Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. She used to be a biologist, but now she is a staff worker for her church youth group and leads a worship team for Sunday service. She also runs the Story Sensei fiction critique service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels every Monday and Thursday, and she ponders frivolous things like dumb dogs (namely, hers), coffee-geek husbands (no resemblance to her own...), the writing journey, Asiana, and anything else that comes to mind. Visit her website at for a huge website contest going on right now, giving away ten boxes of books and 30 copies of her latest release, SINGLE SASHIMI.


Camy Tang said...

Thanks for hosting me today, Missy!

Missy Tippens said...

A great post, camy! Thanks for sharing what you do!


Jody said...

Camy, thank you for all of your helpful advice for writers. I read Story Sensei and have been learning so much. Today's article on Character voices is very practical. The one aspect of character voice I wasn't sure about, however, was "action beats." What are action beats and how do you make them different? Thank you so much!

Myra Johnson said...

Great insight and advice, Camy! I "hear" my characters in my head, and to me they are very distinct. I'm not always sure they come across as individuals on the page, though. I can see how sometimes a little exaggeration could be the key.

Janet Dean said...

Camy, great post on how to make character's voices distinct!

We hear so much about voice in regards to the author, but character voice is just as important. What a character notices and how they preceive what they see make them unique. It all comes down to knowing our characters really well.


Missy Tippens said...

Jody, Camy will probably check in again later. But I can tell you how I use action beats (I assume it's the same as action tags). I use them instead of using "he said or she said." And you can make a character distinctive by his/her actions.

Ex. "No problem. I'm fine." He ground his teeth together so hard it was a wonder they didn't shatter.

You've got a guy who says nothing is wrong, doesn't want to complain, but is so mad he's about to grind his teeth off. It tells a little about him. :)

I hope this is what Camy is talking about!


Missy Tippens said...

Jody, I also meant to say thanks for dropping by! You too, Myra and Janet. :)

Camy Tang said...

Hi Jody,
What Missy said is exactly what I would have said. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Whew! LOL


kalea_kane said...

Thank you Missy for sharing Camy! What valuable insights. I really appreciate Camy's approach.

Thanks so much!

kalea_kane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Missy Tippens said...

Thanks for stopping by, Kalea!

Belinda Peterson said...

Camy, thanks for sharing your secrets! I never thought of watching movies for this. Great idea. and also writing a scene fromt the two characters view is an awesome idea.

Jessica said...

Missy, this is a great interview. I've read all three books and it's true they sound different.
Also interesting are the names. They bring up images of each individual personality. Very cool.

Missy Tippens said...

Hey, Lindi and Jessica. Thanks for stopping by!