I got some feedback on my still unnamed steampunk story yesterday. One of the main bits of praise I got was for making the main character, a Texan, sound unique from the other characters who are all Victorian English. Obviously, since the story is prose, I had to make a real effort to pull such a thing off. Mark Twain was noted for his skill at phonetic dialogue, but a lot of writers, like myself, won’t even go there.
In a lot of ways, this goes back to my previous post on casting the novel, or in this case, the short story. With my steampunk story, I admit that when I thought of the main character, Harrison Beaumont, I was thinking about the steampunk episode of Castle. I thought about the inflections of voice Nathan Fillion used in Firefly, then I enhanced that voice a little and realized Harrison was from Texas. This was before I ever put a word of the story to the page.
Instead of following Mark Twain, I decided to use word choice to describe how Harrison speaks. He uses words like “ain’t,” and his speech pattern might not be proper grammar, but it sounds like how someone from that part of the world might speak. It was one of those times where reading the lines out loud helped me see if they were written properly.
I’ve been working a little on The Third Ritual as well and have found a different circumstance. One of the antagonists is a Russian cyborg named Dimitri Zimyatov. I had been writing a fight scene with him and two other characters, but I found I didn’t really understand how Zimyatov thinks. (I don’t recommend the first scene you ever write for a character be a fight scene, since you won’t know much of their personality at that point.) I decided I would go back and start writing a smaller scene with Zimyatov, letting me get a handle on how he thinks, as well as how he speaks.
Funny thing was, I ended up talking out loud with a Russian accent all night. The result gave me a better understanding of who the character is. The biggest thing I learned about him is how much faith he puts into math, since it is the universal language that everything must obey.
I put a lot of effort into things like this because, if a reader can hear the character’s voice, then it means they are more involved in the story. Hopefully, it means they’re enjoying what they’re reading as well.