Georgia, Broadway, and Niagara — Cheese or Font?

So what’s the per­fect game for some­body who lives in a state with lots of dairy farms, spends a huge hunk of her time writ­ing or read­ing, and has been known to insert a but­ter head into a nov­el as a red her­ring? Why, it’s Cheese or Font, of course!

If you’ve nev­er played, please remem­ber to come back and finish read­ing after you’ve wan­dered here to check it out. Because along with being an enter­tain­ing time-waster, fonts can also be a fun tool for help­ing stu­dents explore the con­cept of char­ac­ter voice.

I’ve talked before about help­ing young writ­ers devel­op their writ­ing voic­es (most recent­ly in “Lost”). But along with the over­all voice of the writer who is cre­at­ing the piece, each char­ac­ter in a sto­ry must also have their own dis­tinct voice. Yet too often, all the char­ac­ters end up sound­ing exact­ly the same in stu­dent first drafts.

Some­times none of the voic­es sound the way that real peo­ple talk. They’re over­ly for­mal, like a text­book or legal doc­u­ment would sound if it stood up and start­ed declaim­ing. In those cas­es, I encour­age the stu­dents to do more eaves­drop­ping. Lis­ten­ing is a great tool for learn­ing the nuances of speak­ing. Anoth­er easy tip is to have stu­dents read all dia­logue out loud — they will quick­ly hear if it sounds too stilt­ed. Final­ly, remind stu­dents that dia­logue is one place where con­trac­tions are almost always pre­ferred — most peo­ple default to con­trac­tions when talk­ing aloud, even though they’re frowned on in more for­mal writing.

Oth­er times, the prob­lem is that the voic­es in a sto­ry draft sound like real speech, but also sound too much alike, or don’t match the char­ac­ters to whom the writer has assigned the voic­es. The ten-year-old rebel­lious boy char­ac­ter sounds exact­ly the same as the under­stand­ing great grand­ma whose home is infest­ed with lace doilies.

Here’s where font fun comes in. Next time your stu­dents have the chance to write on com­put­ers, ask them to write a scene where two or more char­ac­ters in their sto­ry are dis­cussing the story’s events. For each char­ac­ter, they should find the font that best rep­re­sents that character’s voice when writ­ing his or her dia­logue. For that rebel­lious ten-year-old? Maybe a font that looks like a child­ish scrawl with sharp edges. For the doily-lov­ing great grand­ma? How about a beau­ti­ful ital­ic script?

It’s a cheesy but effec­tive way to get stu­dents to tru­ly “hear” the voic­es of their char­ac­ters. Extra cred­it if you can tell me if Geor­gia, Broad­way, and Nia­gara are cheeses or fonts!

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Lois Bartholomew
Lois Bartholomew
5 years ago

Great tip, for teach­ers and for writ­ers. Thanks, Lisa