Saying it Straight: Finding a Character’s Voice
Voice is always a huge marker for me of a good writer versus a so-so one. When the words of a character flow, when they not only tell me what they’re saying, thinking, and doing, but how–and even whose head I’m in without being told–then I know it’s a strong voice. I’ve read a lot of opinions on how to “find your voice,” on dialogue, on deep POV. But for me, nothing helps me find each character’s voice like sitting back and listening.
I’ve written all kinds of characters, from coastal Southern to high-society New York, from Biblical Hebrew to Victorian-era Monagasque. My goal is always to use their thought patterns to draw a more complete picture of the character, and this is as never as simple as what they’re expressing. It’s largely about how I write those expressions.
With a minor in linguistics, I’ve learned to pay a lot of attention to things like sentence structure, word choice, and cadence. Ask anybody who has taken a course in which they had to translate a text–there are a thousand ways to phrase every idea, and finding “just the right one” is often a matter of taste and style. Should you use a contraction or not? Should you choose “right” or “just” for that sentence? Would it better capture the verb if you use simple past or past progressive?
When I was writing A Stray Drop of Blood I put a ridiculous amount of time into the language. Set in Jerusalem and Rome at the time of Christ, the common language would have been Ancient Greek. I was learning Greek for two of the years during which I was writing the book, so I had the advantage of first-hand insight into the way the language affected the thoughts expressed. It was an inside joke at our school that our thoughts would occasionally come out Greek, though in English words–we’d mix up the word order terribly, but our classmates would still understand us, because they were “thinking Greek” too. As I wrote, I wanted to somehow capture that–the way people of the era thought, spoke, and interacted.
The result is a conscious choice not to use contractions, but rather to convey formality versus casualness through word choice and arrangement. To have typical Greek replies to questions, which may sound odd to English speakers, phrases like “To me, at least, it seems . . .” peppered throughout. Lots of contrasting thoughts butting against each other, and even having my characters shift between Greek, Latin, and Hebrew to best convey the point they wanted to make at the time.
One of the highest compliments my writing has been paid was when someone said, “I knew they were French before you ever said so. They just sounded French.” That’s what I go for in all my dialogue and deep POV. That the reader will recognize that Louisa is from the Carolinas, Rem from D.C. That Abigail is obviously versed in the Greek poets, that Jason has spent a lot of time in Rome. I can only do this by knowing the word-pictures they paint for themselves, the analogies they would make, the images that fill their mind.
To me, it’s not really about finding my voice. It’s about finding theirs.
About Roseanna's book A Stray Drop of Blood
Beautiful is a dangerous thing to be when one is unprotected.
For seven years, Abigail has been a slave in the Visibullis house. With a Hebrew mistress and a Roman master, she has always been more family than servant . . . until their son returns to Jerusalem after his years in Rome. Within a few months Jason has taken her to his bed and turned her world upside down. Maybe, given time, she can come to love him as he says he loves her. But how does she open her heart to the man who ruined her?
Israel's unrest finds a home in her bosom, but their rebellion tears apart her world. Death descends with Barabbas's sword, and Abigail is determined to be there when the criminal is punished. But when she ventures to the trial, Barabbas is not the one the crowd calls to crucify. Instead, it is the teacher her master and Jason had begun to follow, the man from Nazareth that some call the Son of God . . .
Born free, made a slave, married out of her bonds, Abigail never knows freedom until she feels the fire of a stray drop of blood from a Jewish carpenter. Disowned by Israel, despised by Rome, desired by all, she never knows love until she receives the smile of a stoic Roman noble.