Find Your Character’s Voice & Listen to Your Character’s Voice

Find Your Character’s Voice & Listen to Your Character’s Voice

Find Your Character’s Voice & Listen to Your Character’s Voice

When you find your character’s voice, you’ll begin to know how you want your character to act, speak, sound, talk, react, dream, and so much more.

Think about this:

When you hear a story character say: “Howdy, pardoner. What cha’ doin’ in these here parts?”

From the way this character talks, what do you think you know about this character? What might this character be wearing? In what part of the USA might this character live or work? Do you have an idea about the work this character does for a living? Give the character a name. WHEW!

Let’s try to begin understanding another character from the way they talk: “Alas, thou dost besmirch my honor with your loathsome regard for my command.”

No way am I, Professor Tonio, gonna repeat the questions I asked you to answer above. Sooooo, answer those questions about this “Alas, thou dost…” character. And give HIM or HER a name. [What fun, thinks Professor Tonio.]

Hey, ho, I made up another character for you to think about~~ but are you still thinking? Sure hope so.

This character says, “Eye shore do wont ta speak ma mind to that feller.”

That’s right. Answer those same questions and give the “Eye shore” character a name.

Ready to hear another character? Good. ‘Cause this one is from a story I wrote. The minute this character came into my mind, my life, my story, I named him Keeper of the Forest. At once, he talked like this:

“Ah, ah. Destiny, Destiny,” Keeper cried. “Oh, har favor not so easily gained dah. Mortal upon mortal have passed thees way desperate for Destiny’s cure,” continued Keeper. “Just as many have returned more, oooh, more and more wretched than when they set out tah. Crestfallen wahr they for having failed to receive Destiny’s guidance to change the course of thar tormented lives sah.”

I wanted Keeper of the Forest to have a drawl, to speak in a slow, lazy way with prolonged vowel sounds. His way of talking seemed so right for the kind of character I made him become? What kind of character is he? Ah, you need to read the story to find out about him and all the other characters that live in my story.  My story is called Loukas and the Game of Chance, and it will be published in 2019. Stay tuned.

Here you go again. Answer those same questions. You already know the name.

Another character speaks. Actually, two characters speak. A father and his son. The author of the story is Neil Gaiman. You may know him as the author of Coraline ( Graveyard Book ( and The Sandman series of graphic novels.

You say you never heard of these books? If you like strange, weird, mysterious, frightening happenings, you’ll love Mr. Gaiman’s stories.

Alright, back to a character’s voice. The characters speaking here are in Gaiman’s novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane (

“Dad? Where’s the car?”

“In the drive.”

“No, it isn’t.”


Pretty ordinary, right? I mean, the way these two characters talk sounds like so many people—fathers and sons—you may know. Except that there’s so much to think about—so much suspense—in so few words. Answer the same questions. Remember? From the way these characters talk, what do you think you know about them? What might these characters be wearing? In what part of the USA might these characters live or work? Do you have an idea about the work this character does for a living? Give the character a name. WHEW!

Go ahead now: Get together with a friend and have a conversation about how the two of you answered the questions.

That’s enough, Professor Granpa Tonio! Gotta life? Gotta go.


The way a character handles disappointment reveals a great deal about what is important to him or her.

Write a story or a short scene or simply write down some notes that show what happens when your character faces a disappointment. How does she or he act? What does he or she say? Ah, yes: How does your character speak?

My grandfatherly advice: Make sure you store your writing in—TAH DAH—your WRITER’S NOTEBOOK. What’s that? On my website, there’s a blog titled “Tween and Teen Writing Tips.” That’s where I introduce a writer’s notebook.


Calling all teachers, parents, advocates. Do you want to encourage your readers and writers to create characters who have a distinct way of speaking? Search dialect in children’s literature and dialect in literature. Wow! You’ll find a lot there.

You’ll find useful examples like these:

This list provides examples of children’s books on dialect variation.

And for high school readers and writers:

Happy Reading.

Happy Writing.

Visit my website:

#Read. #Write. #Act. #Draw. #Play. #Explore.

It’s all happening at Professor Granpa Tonio’s website:

Kids, teachers, parents, grandparents, partners~~oh, that’s anyone who’s wild about books for kids, tweens, teens, and beyond. Come on over and hang out. You’ll find a very special place for watching funny videos, acting out stories with friends, writing like a pro, making story art, going deep inside different kinds of literature with really cool questions and reading guides. See you there. Don’t forget to tell me what you’re reading and writing these days. And, hey, be sure to leave your comments and suggestions and interests about—you got it—reading and writing.

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa Book Review

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa Book Review

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, 2002. Ages 5-9.

What’s this book about? “Let me tell you Ella’s story./‘Cause, you see, I was there. From the get-go.” That’s the voice of Scat Cat Monroe, the cool dude narrator-guide who pays homage to Ella’s grit, determination, and remarkable talent in four “Tracks:” “Hoofin’ in Harlem,” “Jammin’ at Yale,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” and “Carnegie Hall Scat.” Scat Cat Monroe tells of the contest seventeen year-old Ella wins at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, an early breakthrough that helped secure her popularity among Harlem audiences who were “eating out of her hand” in the 1930s. Ella then gets noticed by Chick Webb, jazz drummer and band leader, who quickly recognizes her talent and mentors her in the swing style of jazz, an entertainment she and Webb’s orchestra bring to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom for an extended stay. Later, Ella’s bebop vocals accompany Dizzy Gillespie’s “…ping-pong rhythms that gave bebop its sound.” With Gillespie’s band, she moves into scat singing—“abandoning the lyrics of a song to use nonsense syllables to carry the rhythm”—one of her most famous vocal styles. In the 1940s she joins “Jazz at the Philharmonic,” a traveling troupe of jazz musicians that played to racially integrated audiences, particularly uncommon at that time. The rest, as they say, is history. Ella wins thirteen Grammy Awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award, and a National Medal of the Arts.

Why is this a good book? This biography rocks with a writing style that’s hip, musical, and jazzy-poetic, and scratch-board illustrations that keep the story moving with characters that dance, swing, twirl, and soar across electric pages.

Next read: Pair this biography with Ella Fitzgerald singing some of her most famous songs. Try: Ella 100: Ella Fitzgerald: 100 Songs For a Centennial, Verve, 2017.

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women Book Review

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women Book Review

#Not Your Princess: Voices of Native American Women by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale (Eds.), Illustrated by Indigenous Artists. Annick Press, 2017. Ages 14 & up.

What’s this book about? With blistering prose, poetry, and illustrations, these Native women lay bare physical, mental, and sexual abuse (“I Don’t Want To Be Afraid,” Imajyn Cardinal [Cree/Dene]), lost and found identity (“Stereotype This,” Melanie Fey [Diné]), social marginalization (“Reclaiming Indigenous Women’s Rights,” Nahanni Fontaine [Anishinaabe]), resilience and survival (“Defender of Mother Earth,” AnnaLee Rain Yellowhammer [Hunkpapa/Standing Rock Sioux]), pride and achievement (“More Than Meets the Eye,” Kelly Edzerza-Bapty [Tahitan] and Claire Anderson [Tlingit]), and political activism (“We Are Not a Costume,” Jessica Deer [Mohawk]). There are also pieces that celebrate the richness and sustainability of Native heritage and honor spiritual, social, and personal advocacy, resistance, and rebellion. Indigenous Native American women of power, endurance, and hope populate these pages. Rejoice!

Why is this a good book? Stop. Look. Listen. Here we have an informative, inspiring, gut-wrenching, and provocative collection by more than thirty writers and artists who explore the experiences of contemporary Indigenous women throughout North America.

The book is the winner of a 2018 American Indian Library Association’s Youth Literature Award and many other honors.

Next read: Pair this collection with Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, Annick Press, 2016. Ages 12 & up.

John Lennon’s Imagine Book Review

John Lennon’s Imagine Book Review

Imagine by John Lennon, Illustrated by Jean Jullien. Clarion, 2017 Ages 2-7 & all ages

What’s this book about? True to the theme of John Lennon’s famed lyrics, a pigeon bearing olive branches, makes her way though various settings spreading and nurturing respect, harmony, and love among other feathered creatures. Along the way, she offers an olive branch to feathered ones in need of a reminder about inclusiveness, friendship, and kindness.

Why is this a good book? While Jullien’s bold, lively full-color illustrations invite close observation and lots of discussion about cooperation, conflict resolution, and peace. The illustrations bring to life the longing for world-wide tolerance and acceptance Lennon envisioned in his hopeful lyrics and soothing music.

Other good books ask: Can We Make the World a Better Place?

Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story o War and Plea for Peace by Bana Alabed,  Simon & Schuster, 2017. YA & up.

What the World Needs Now is Love. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Illustrated by Mary Kate McDevitt., Penguin Workshop, 2017. Ages 4 & up.