Tips for Developing Character Voice from Dee Garretson

I recently attended a workshop at a Central Ohio SCBWI meeting with middle grade author Dee Garretson*. She gave some good tips for developing character voice.

Just to clarify, people talk about several types of voice. One type, what Garretson refers to as authorial voice, refers to the author’s writing style. A while back I blogged some tips from Cathy Yardley for developing your own voice. Dee’s presentation focused instead on character voice, which is the style of a specific character in your story.

So on to the tips:

1.What kind of observations does your character make? What would that character notice about someone they just met, or a room they just entered? It would be different for a 12 year old girl than it would be for a middle aged man.

For example, if a character were to say:

“She was a German and made brilliant meatballs,”Gideon, the Cutpurse

What impression do you get of the character? What kind of person would mention meatball making ability as a defining characteristic?

2. How does your character react to situations?

I felt a drop of sweat trickle down my side like a spider and disappear into the waistband of my itchy, brand-new suit pants, which I hoped never to wear again.”  -I,Q

From this reaction, we can tell the character is young and uncomfortable in formal clothes. 

3. Word choices  In the first example, change "brilliant" into “yummy” meatballs and you get a very different voice. 
There are also some good word choices in the quote from I,Q -- spider, for example.

Another example:
The fog hung over Booker Mountain like an old ragged coat.” - The Dragon Heir

If you change “old ragged coat” to “malevolent ghost”, again, you get a  different feel.

How do you invoke character voice in your own writing?

*Garretson’s middle grade adventure book Danger’s Edge: Wildfire at Camp David will be released in September.


  1. Good tips, especially now as I am developing two new characters in my WIP.

  2. Hi Livia! I saw a question up there. Does your voice change? I most certainly believe so. When I write fantasy, my voice feels formal. When I write for YA, it is light and with simpler vocabulary. It fits the individual voice of the POV character, I guess. :)

  3. Great tips. It's good to think of words and reactions. I like the idea of wondering what the character would notice upon entering a room. I'm tucking that into my memory.

  4. its like acting- instead of merely getting into a character's headspace, you tell yourself 'behaviour, behaviour, behavior', what would he/she do while crossing the street? waiting for a bus?

  5. Thank you for passing along the tips. Screen printed and stowed away in my writing stash! :)

  6. I tend to write from the pov of both the male and female mc. I try to make them unique & gender specific. It's fun. The male writing is more terse, more sentence fragments. The female talks in longer thoughts, notices more visuals around her. It fun to stay in character with them.

  7. Great post. Thanks for sharing these. :)

  8. I love this, Livia – thanks so much for posting!
    In my MS, I've been toying with the juxtaposition of a pretty heavy social dystopia from the eyes of a girl-next-door main character. It's a lot of fun – the tension in that difference can be so revealing.

  9. Since I'm just on my first novel, I can't say that I've consciously worked with character voice-- other than being careful they weren't all (obviously) me.

    I changed several characters that where too direct in their speaking their minds. Left one.

  10. I find it really helps if I can hear the character's voice in my head. If I can't, it probably means I'm not ready to write it yet.

  11. I'm rewriting a fairytale and I have 4 main characters. Each one needs a distinct voice, but I'm not sure I always succeed. Something to work on in rewrites.

  12. Great post! Character voice is something I've struggled with, but I think I'm getting there. :)

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and for following!