5 Tips to Create a Deep Character Voice

There’s no single ‘perfect style of writing.’ Everyone connects to words a little differently, and what grips me may not grip the next person.

Be that as it may, one of my personal passions in both writing and reading is building a deep emotional connection between the reader and the character. One of the main ways I do this is by developing a unique voice around an already distinct character.

And the main tools I use to create a unique voice are prose and subtext.

1. Connect the character’s backstory to subtext

You can tell so much about a character simply by watching how they view the world. One of the greatest (and, at times, most subtle) ways of doing this is through the word choices and subtext of your writing.

Does your character have trauma from their past? Maybe they flinch at the sound of thunder or freeze when someone yells.

Have they lived their life on the run? Then they’ll be alert to every tiny change in their environment without realizing it. If someone is watching them, they’ll know. If someone isn’t who they seem, they’ll sense danger.

This runs deeper than how your character interacts with their environment though. A noble, taught and treated from birth as if he knows and is owed everything, might be the nicest of characters but will still be surprised if a peasant decides to speak her mind.

2. Connect the character’s occupation to prose

Prose makes up subtext, so there’s a decent bit of overlap. But one way to create a unique character voice is to give your character a unique occupation. Then base their view of the world on it—both in how they think of things and what they notice to start with.

An assassin will notice the shadows. For him, they’ll be like cloaks or traps.

A jaded beggar will notice scraps of food, abandoned like pennies by the wealthy.

A horseman notices the strong build of one mount tied outside the tavern compared to the rest.

Finally, the traveling bard will notice the warm light spilling through barred windows like harp strings and move a little faster at the promise of a warm meal.

The above four lines are all starting to describe the same setting, but each character notices different things and phrases them in different ways.

For example, while the aforementioned strips of light and shadow look like harp strings to the bard, they might look like bars to the beggar or slashes of light to the assassin.

The possibilities of what your character notices and how are endless. Make use of it.

3. Connect your character’s personality to subtext

If you’re writing in deep third person, your character’s thoughts should interweave seamlessly with the rest of the story, and such thoughts should give a specific flavor to your character.

For example, if a beggar watches a wealthy woman being handed into a carriage and thinks of her as a ‘poor fool’ we immediately get a sense of that character’s cynical view of the world.

Another character might run an internal sarcastic commentary on those around him. Or maybe they worry or maybe the girl with the sweet smile is muttering inaudible threats.

Adding your character’s personality to what they think helps create a personal connection to their point of view.

4. Connect your character’s emotion to prose

This plays into subtext too, but it basically involves word choice. Intentionally use words in your descriptions to contrast or compliment the emotion your character is feeling.

If they’re sad, the sky might be weeping. If they’re happy, the rain is dancing on pavement. If they’re guilty, the stars are accusing them. If they’re hunted, the stars are standing watch.

Don’t just describe a scene. Allow the words you choose to continue building up the emotional pull you’re working to create.

5. Connect your character’s arc to subtext

Once you know your character’s arc, you can tie it into the world around them in a dozen little ways—symbolic and otherwise.

If they’re struggling with fear, allow them to mentally connect the creeping shadows of sunset to their emotions. This then allows you, later, to use light breaking through shadows as a contrast or comparison to what is happening inside your character.

Allow them to connect themes or emotions to objects and use those objects to reinforce the emotions you’re building, be it a locket that breaks after a friend betrays them, or a field that catches fire after success crumbles around their ears.

There are lots of ways to write well, but if you’re looking to create deep, unique points of view, remember to connect backstory, occupation, personality, emotions, and arcs to the subtext and prose of your writing.

Interested in a quick review of your current skill level when it comes to prose, or one-on-one coaching on how to improve? Check out the services I offer today!

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