When you write historical cowboys, the voice, once you’ve got it, is really the same.
By voice, in this case, I mean the voice of the characters. Their word choices, their accent, even their attitude comes down to voice.
Now hold on there a minute, little missy.
It ain’t’a gonna do a lick of good.
I write these accents and word choices all the time. All day every day, when I’m writing, the voice for my heroes and mostly for my heroines, within the context of whether they’d shy or bold, aggressive or frightened, are much the same.
I’ve got this slang thing I do that’s… couldn’t’ve. wouldn’t’ve. He’d’ve. Three words crammed into one. I just enjoy like crazy this tone, this accent, this voice.
So in A Man with a Past I wanted something different.
I wanted a Tennessee Mountain Man. That is NOT a cowboy accent.
Example, the beginning of
When a man grows up in wild country, huntin’ food, eyes wide open for trouble, he knows when he’s being watched.
And that man there, back’a him weren’t out lookin’ for a place to have a Sunday picnic.
Falcon’d fought shy of a dozen towns and wanted no part of Independence, Missouri. Ceptin’ he didn’t know where in tarnation he was going and to his understanding this was his last chance to figure it out.
So he went ridin’ right smack into that beehive of a town on his old rawboned mule to find out how to get to Wyoming. And a man commenced to following.
To a lot of men, it might be right hard to spot a single man on these crowded streets full of shops and freight wagons. Everywhere he turned people swarmed.
But staying alive wasn’t easy in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee, where a man could find a way to die near every time he turned around. And yet here Falcon stood, as tall and rawboned as his mule, proving he was a tough, savvy man and he didn’t intent to trust to luck with that man on his tail.
He intended to trust to skill.
To get this voice, after trying a few different things, I used the Louis L’Amour book Ride the River.
Ride the River is one of my favorite L’Amour books. It’s one of the Sackett Books starring that rare creature a female Sackett. And Echo Sackett, which is also a favorite name, has this Tennessee Mountain Voice. The men Sacketts have some of it but they are soon Western Cowboys and have that western drawl I love.
But not Echo.
So I read Ride the River and started writing A Man with a Past, then I could feel myself slipping back into that western drawl, so I’d stop writing my book and read sections of Ride the River again, until I picked up the rhythm of that voice again. I didn’t COPY any words, just the tone, the accent.
So Falcon Hunt, my hero, has that voice…mostly. It was always a fight to keep him in the right accent.
And now I’m working on a book that has yet another voice. Three women from San Francisco, highly educated, extremely intelligent. These women are NOT saying, Howdy or “I couldn’t’ve done it.”
Oh no. They speak in full sentences, they use BIG words. They do not spout off or draw a gun. They think everything through. And here’s the thing I’ve realized a bout writing really smart people…honestly…geniuses… I’m not smart enough to do it.
So it’s a struggle not unlike my Falcon Hunt/Echo Sackett struggle.
So how to make these women really smart.
I’ve hunted around and found a few examples, beyond just their accents.
Excerpt from Inventions of the Heart (my heroine, Michelle is an inventor)
Jilly, sitting alone in the front row, rose and came to Michelle’s side, to stand as witness.
Michelle glanced at her and smiled, then turned back to Zane, that bright smile on his face drawing her like he was magnetized and she was a Euclidian vector field.
(This is Jilly but Laura is the heroine of this book–the girls have run away from home and are posing as servants, hiding from their evil stepfather)
“The work can’t be too heavy, Jilly. There are only two men to—”
“Heavy’s not a problem. Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world.”
The parson gave her a look through eyes so narrow and suspicious she wished she’d’ve skipped the quote.
He said, “You’re not, nor have you ever been, a servant, have you, Jilly?”
Nope, she probably shouldn’t be quoting Archimedes. She clamped her mouth shut.
These three women…well…I’m doing my best but Michelle, Jilly and Laura Stiles are all smarter than I am, so I’m just struggling to fake being smart.
To an author, getting a character’s voice right is so fundamental that it’s in many ways the foundation of the whole character. What does she look like? Sure, that’s easy, what is her basic personality…well, beyond, for me, making their feisty lady ranchers, it’s not that hard to pick a character type. But their voice. What do they sound like, what words do they choose. It reflects what’s going on in their heads and that’s the person you want to bring to life on the page.
So right now I’m in the middle of trying to write Jilly, she’s book three of this series and she’s got a photographic memory. And that’s fun because she’s always coming up with exactly what someone said once, a long time ago.
It’s one of the harder, and more fun things about being an author.
So when you think of this idea, this VOICE, what comes to mind? Can you think of a favorite character from some book and how their voice helped you see them. I loved Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, that child voice telling this very adult story. The child gets only a little bit of what’s going on, but through her innocent eyes, we, the reader, get it. It’s a brilliant piece of storytelling.
Echo Sackett of course is one of my favorites. And remember Louis L’Amour almost always talked in that western cowboy drawl in his books so he had to get this Tennessee accent and use it to ground his character.
Who else? Who has a voice you love? Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for a signed copy of A Man with a Past.
And coming in October, available now from pre-order, book #3 in the Brothers in Arms Series
Wyatt Hunt is temporarily bedridden and completely miserable. Somehow Molly Garner’s limited skills have made her the most qualified in their circle to care for Wyatt. But by the time he’s healed, she’s fed up with him and the whole ungrateful family. For even worse than his grumpiness were the few unguarded moments when he pulled at her heartstrings, and she has long determined to never marry.
Molly gets a job as the housekeeper at Oliver Hawkins’s ranch. But really she’s with the Pinkertons, spying to find out if Hawkins has abused women and if he’s guilty of murder.
Wyatt refuses to let her risk it alone, convincing Hawkins that he’s abandoning his own ranch, angered by his two brothers’ coming to claim a big chunk of it.
But when another Pinkerton agent gets shot, they realize Hawkins isn’t the only danger. The Hunt brothers will have to band together to face all the troubles of life and love that suddenly surround them.