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I wrote a short story in which the protagonist (Vasily) has a notebook. During my rewrite, I wanted to really emphasize the importance of the notebook and push the reader's focus onto it. I decided to rewrite several scenes into notebook entries instead (an excellent suggestion from NeilFein). The rest of the narrative is in third-person. His notebook is written in first-person (obviously).

I had a personal journal for years, so I thought it would be straightforward to write an authentic-sounding journal entry. Instead, when I re-read those passages, I can hear my voice rather than Vasily's.

I want there to be a distinct difference between the notebook passages and the rest of the narrative, but although I have a feel for Vasily's character, I don't seem to know how he would write.

Is there a technique that would help to develop this character's personal writing style? I can't seem to make it sound different from my own.

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4 Answers 4

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The other thing you can look at is Vasily's world and background. Depending on the people around him (their class, their culture, their beliefs), he will use different words, different phrases, different cadences. Examine who he would have been influenced by, and start by working specific words and phrases in. What does he use to express surprise, or disbelief, or joy, or dismay?

From there, you can look at sentence structure, if you feel it still sounds too much like you. What kind of rhythm is there to his speech? Is he inclined to use long, expressive sentences? Or does he keep things short and simple? Some people get straight to the point, others beat around the bush first.

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Yes, this is good advice. I hadn't thought about how the sentence structures would impact the perception of the passages. Consciously breaking my regular structures seems to be key to breaking out of my narrative voice. Thank you. –  KitFox Aug 17 '12 at 18:50
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Have you ever done any acting? This I find to be a good way to establish a voice. Pick up plays and try out the various parts. Think of the point of view of each of the actors and try to say their lines as they are motivated from a unique, idiosyncratic perspective.

When you hear your voice uttering these words out loud, you may experience a transformation. You may become the character. In this case, your voice will not sound like your voice. It is good practice.

It also works for other aspects of your writing, such as the production of dialogue and interior monologue. You have to become each and every one of your characters the same way an actor inhabits a role. Have a careful ear: Listen to the way people talk and see how they express themselves. If all your characters speak the way you would speak and say the things you would say, then you won't be creating a convincing world. You have to let the world in before you can let it out.

As an exercise, you might try writing the same journal entry as written by several different characters. Make sure to convey their moods, their prejudices, their past hurts and desires, their innate assumptions about life. Don't explain any of this. Just project it.

The more you write different characters differently, the easier it becomes. The point is, you have to write a lot. So don't try to be perfect right off the bat. If something isn't working, set it aside and write more, then come back to it. It may be that when you have finished your story or novel or screenplay you will go back and see things (like a character's journal entry) that don't ring true. If you do, simply change them.

When I write I hear the voices of my characters in my head. They are all different personalities and nearly write themselves. It's as if they each have something to say that they wish to say, and they behave as they wish to behave. A lot of the time what they say and do comes as a surprise to me. Writing is a process of discovery. What you discover is what you have assimilated over the course of your life, and that includes everyone you have ever known.

I don't know if any of this will be helpful to you, but it can't hurt to try.

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This is hard to answer, because there can be multiple causes for your problem. So the first step would be to identify these causes. To do that you need to know what your character is focusing on.

It could be a problem of gender. Men write different notebook entries than women. Let's say Vasily has met a sexual attractive woman. Now he asks his notebook if her smile was more offering than just politeness. How do men describe that smile, how do women? Ask your friends (one woman, one man) to write down such a description, then compare it with your own.

It could be a problem of different background. Vasily spent ten years in jail. You only one. (ok, ok, I'm kidding, I have no idea how long Kitfox was in jail) So you do not know how these additional years transform the psyche of your protagonist.

Make up different scenarios. Would he describe his feelings for the woman above differently if he was raped by his inmates? If he raped his inmates?

It's about emotions. What would someone feel, who was raped, who felt helpless for ten years? What does someone feel who was dominating the others for ten years?

The key for the different tone are different emotions. Write about something that makes you creep, which you fears. Losing your job? Locked into a room with rats? The first time your kid was coughing hard and you had no idea what it was and what to do?

Write about something that made you happy. Meeting a good friend. Playing with your kid the whole day. Compare these writings and very likely they will sound like different persons. Building on that you also can write like Vasily.

Ask yourself on what details/emotions would Vasily focus.

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Per the agreement when the record was sealed, I cannot disclose the duration of my time in jail. –  KitFox Aug 17 '12 at 12:26
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Oh my, this is a problem. I've had it as well. Very tricky indeed.

How do I get outside myself? How do I think and talk like someone else?

How can I stop being me??

You know, it occurs to me that actors have this problem as well. Some of them take their jobs really seriously and get deep into character and pretend to really be that person. They change their bodies, their lifestyles, their personalities. They want terribly to convince you that they are no longer the person you know they really are.

I've never heard of an author doing this. I wonder why?

Perhaps because we have the advantage of not needing to be that person on the spot. We can think it out, take our time, revise, edit, sculpt, until we've created the perfect portrayal. We have all the time in the world. They have to do it all in one take, or start over.

So my first suggestion is to take massive advantage of your ability to fine-tune every frame, so to speak. Look at every sentence, every word, every phrase and expression. Look at the overall structure/direction of what the character has said in their writing. Is it consistent with their personality? Would Abraham Lincoln really use the word "bubblicious"? Of course he would.

My second suggestion is to simply get into your character. Think about them. Sketch them out. Figure out their past. Imagine their future. Mentally place them in a variety of situations, talking with a variety of people, and discover what they say, and how they say it. I think you might find an image taking shape very quickly. Once you really know them, you'll know what they would say without thinking twice.

The proof's in the pudding. Take your close friends, people you know better than anyone. If one of them did something out of character, wouldn't you notice instantly? You'd think, That's strange, James is never this direct, or How unusual, Sarah using a word like "effluvium"? When you really know someone, breaches of standard behavior stand out like neon lights.

And don't think that characters are any different from close friends. After all, who knows your characters better than you, their creator?

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I realized after I said it that I honestly had no idea what "the proof is in the pudding" even means. I had to look it up. I've been using it my whole life just to mean "The proof is right in front of you," which is apparently not what it means at all. Oh well. Nobody uses it the old way anymore, anyway. Time for a new meaning. Me, rewriting idioms since 1934! A family business. –  Aerovistae Aug 17 '12 at 5:13
    
That oft-misquoted expression is actually "The proof of the pudding is in the eating (or tasting)" which makes much more sense. You don't know if it is good until you try it. –  KitFox Aug 17 '12 at 10:54
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