Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Jennifer is hearing voices again J

I met Paula the other day. In person, on American soil. I’ll let her blog about it and post the picture, as our meeting was a result of her month-long vacation in the U.S., but suffice it to say, we had a wonderful lunch and afternoon together.

When I told people about it, they all thought it was wonderful that we were getting to meet in person. And it was. But the thing that struck me about it was this: because of social media, blogging, emails and critiques, we knew almost everything about each other—EXCEPT OUR VOICES.

I know she’s not a morning person, and was pleasantly surprised that she was willing to talk to me before lunch (J). I know she likes savory, not sweet, so I didn’t expect us to do dessert. I know she used to be a history teacher, so we talked about Morristown’s link to America’s Revolutionary War past.

What I didn’t know was what she sounded like.

As writers, we often talk about voice, but we mean our author’s voice. An author’s voice makes us unique. It enables a writer to pick up one of our books and, without looking at who wrote it, automatically know it’s ours based on how we write.

But what about character voices? Sure, I hear voices in my head (as do most authors and all crazy people), but do we hear their actual voices? Do we hear accents, pitch and tone? When we create a character, how do we convey those things? Or can we?

Should I simply say that my character is from New York to let the reader know how she speaks? Mark Twain wrote using actual dialect, which made the reader know exactly what the character sounded like, but was cumbersome to read.

What would you do?


  1. What an interesting topic, Jen.
    For character voice, a few dribbles of accent seem to suffice. I hate deciphering long, intricate replications of dialect. There are passages in Diana Gabaldon's books that I have yet to sound out and understand.
    As to how Paula sounds? Or you? That's intriguing.

  2. Fascinating post, Jen. I guessed your accent would probably be similar to that of my NJ cousins, but of course I didn't know whether your voice would be high or low (or medium). But somehow you sounded just as I expected. Now I'm wondering what you thought of my voice and accent!
    Like you, I can hear my characters' voices, and accents too - because of course accents can be very different even in our small island. So a character from the south of England will speak differently to a character from North West England.
    In 'Irish Inheritance', I found myself having to deal with English, American, and Irish accents - but I did try to make these fairly subtle (and definitely not the 'Hollywood Irish'). Normally I find it difficult to mimic accents (unlike some people who have a natural flair for accents) but when I was reading 'Irish Inheritance' out loud to myself, I suddenly found (to my amused amazement!) that I was using Guy's American accent and also the Irish characters' accents too! In some cases, I even changed the wording because the 'American' or 'Irish' didn't sound right when read aloud!
    I wonder if my readers could also hear those accents?

  3. Paula, your voice sounded as I expected you to as well, although your accent was different from the "typical" English accent that I'm used to. But I understood you without any problems. Ana, I agree with you about not overdoing it in our books.

  4. How fun to have met in person!

    Great post about voices. Jen, I remember listening to a radio interview you did and thinking you didn't sound anything like I imagined! :)

    The debate about dialects is endless. Editors I've encountered tend to veer toward the side of using hints to let readers know how your character is speaking, but to not overdo, which can get annoying for readers. I was encouraged to be sure to include the 'g' on the end of words I would normally drop for my southern accents. And baby talk is really a no-no these days.

    I agree that things over the top sometimes make it difficult to follow the flow of the plot. But then I think of Hagrid in Harry Potter and my Scottish vampires in the Love at Stake series, and I love reading in their dialect.

  5. Really enjoyed this post as Paula and I met a couple of years ago at the RNA conference and I hadn't given a single thought to how our voices might sound to each other! I always forget I'm Scottish and although I don't have a broad accent, I probably sound Scottish to English and US voices - though I've often been taken for Irish!