Last week we talked about how to craft an authentic voice by listening to the voices around you and in media. But what if your character is a type of person you can’t find in any of those places? What if they’re from the future, of which we know little, or from the ancient past, before there was a written language to record how they spoke? What if they are not even human—an alien, an angel, a robot dinosaur?
What if you want a voice just as unique as the character? A voice that will blow your readers’ minds?
Here are some steps to help you create one.
NOTE: this is a list of ideas, not a checklist. All will not work for your character, and there are probably additional methods you will need. This is simply a starting point. Choose wisely, but don’t be afraid to experiment!
First – a few questions to get you in the mindset:
Is the narrator intimately familiar with the modern human world? Would he be able to use and understand our weird human idioms and expressions?
Imagine a day in the life of this character. What does he spend most of his time doing? How does this effect what he thinks and talks about?
If this character doesn’t speak English, whatever you write is a translation. Ask yourself what his native language is like, compared to English. Is it as descriptive? Is it more rigid? Is it simpler, or more complicated? Are there some concepts in his language that can’t be translated to English at all?
Are there human or earthly concepts he cannot understand? Does he understand gender? Light and dark? The passage of time? Physical space?
Will this story be like describing color to a man born blind, and if so, who is the blind man—the character, or the reader?
Now, some fun things to try:
- Remove all idioms and clichés – or get them intentionally wrong
- Remove any pop culture references
- Make up pop culture references
- Occasionally try, then fail, to describe something, then explain that human words are inadequate
- Replace common words with words you make up, or words from an obscure human language: especially replace words that are measurements, such as in time (minutes, hours, years), distances (feet, meters) as well as days of the week, etc.
- Change the spelling of words – think of Olde English, or 1337 (leet)
- Remove common words like articles (a, an, the), like in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
- Cut words down to their roots, eliminating ings and eds and the like
- Eliminate punctuation, using only line- and paragraph-breaks to differentiate between phrases and sentences
- Use all the senses except sight in your descriptions
- Describe from a sixth sense, like telepathy – bonus points if you can make up a sense nobody has thought of before
- Don’t use adjectives
- Don’t use pronouns
- Write normally, then remove every fifth word and see what happens
- Describe events at a molecular level
- Describe events as if watching from miles away
What wacky voice ideas do you have? Spill them in the comments!
Other posts to help you prepare for Voice Week: