by Brenda W. Clough
Ideally, every character has a voice — they sound like themselves. More importantly, they sound like creatures of their space and time and class and era. Lydia Bennett is not going to sound like Podkayne of Mars. If you write it right, the reader will not need a tag, the addition of a crutch like, “..said Miss Bennett, flirtatiously.” The voice, the words she speaks and the way she says it, will tell the reader everything she needs to know. And voice changes faster than you know. Only our modern recording technology allows us to display the evolution easily; move back far enough and it’s all speculation.
So: where to go and mine voice of the right period, in quantity? Ah, the wonders of our modern age. There are projects solely devoted to recording oral reminiscence. If you listen to public radio, you know about StoryCorps. Go to their archive and fall in: not only the history the speaker is telling you, but how he says it, the words and the cadence and the voice. You are not writing about Americans, you say? Here is the UK equivalent, run by BBC Radio 4. Pick your recordings with care, and soak yourself in it. Your characters can sound like they were born in Cheshire, or Leeds, or Norfolk, and you never need leave Minneapolis.
My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out from Book View Café.