Hearing voices….

I’m just back from my latest reading. Generally, I manage three short chapters a time – say just over half an hour- and it seems to be working for the kids (says she, croaking). For me, it’s a case of performing two forty-minute gigs back to back.

I thought it was time to address the thing which has proved the greatest challenge to date:

Voice.

Let me explain. So, all of us writerly types know that it’s best to show the plot unfolding rather than tell the reader what happens. All good. One way of making sure you don’t tell is to pack your book with dialogue. It brings the reader into the action as if they were listening in; as if they were actually there.

You know all this, of course. So did I – or so I thought. The truth is, the whole dialogue thing is proving trickier than I thought when you’re reading every last word of it aloud. I’m now about a third into the story and already I have a range of characters whose voices have to sound distinct and different, both on the page and when their words come out of my mouth:

Greig – 12-year old main character (and 1st person narrator). A bit uptight and terrified of dogs, but can be fun when relaxed. As he is there all the time, his voice is close to my natural voice or it would be a killer to read prolonged extracts.

Lester: Greig’s slightly dim but faithful sidekick. Lester’s voice is a bit like Sadness from the film Inside Out. I’m already regretting that choice as it’s an effort to put on, and Lester seems to have a lot to say. Funny how these characters take over.

Bully Macpherson: High pitch, sneering tone, Glaswegian accent for the school bully.

The Handsome Harrisons: twins in the class who look down on everyone. These guys sound the same as each other and are similar to Bully, but without the accent.

The teacher: hyper-enthusiastic with up and down intonation, volume really loud.

Fiona: the main girl character: I have just upped the pitch slightly and given her a hair-flicking habit. It means I now just need the gesture when reading her and the kids seems to get it.

Miss Trundle: elderly neighbour with humour and boundless energy. Think a slightly fiercer, elderly Sybil Fawlty.

Greig’s Mum: obsessively houseproud.  I’ve given her the habit of addressing everybody in terms of endearment, like Greig-dear and Brian-darling. So far, it seems to work.

Greig’s Dad: Policeman. Low, rumbling voice, often complains. Usually about the unsolved crimes which form part of the book’s mystery.

Grim Jim MacPherson: Bully’s dad and the Dog-Walking Consortium’s scariest customer by far. Think panto villain and pirate captain combined. Just for the voice, that is.

The school secretary: clipped sentences, fragments as she keeps getting distracted, a bit over-formal.

And there will probably be more. You see my predicament. Have any more than, say three of these character in the same conversation and you’re in trouble, unless you want to finish every sentence with ‘so-and-so says’. It’s a bit of a no-no in terms of writing that flows.

As an aside, all these characters’ voices can cause maximum embarrassment in the wrong context. Say you’re thinking out a conversation and the phone rings and you answer like Lester. Not that this actually happened to me. Honest….

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