1. Jetshroom
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    Jetshroom Active Member

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    Character Dialogue

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Jetshroom, Mar 25, 2013.

    I've recently been having a lot of difficulty giving my characters a unique voice in their dialogue. Neither of my two main characters is a caricature or specific stereotype, so their dialogue is coming out a bit too neutral.
    I've written caricatures before and the dialogue is much easier, because I'm exaggerating it, but I'm having difficulty with these characters.

    What techniques do you use to give a unique voice to your characters?

    Voice is something I really want to get right, because it's something that really breaks a book for me when it's done wrong.
     
  2. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Well, one trick is to really know what your characters like and dislike. That has an effect on the way they form their sentences. Like it they love chocolate, then the words they use while talking about chocolate will be slightly excited: and if they hate chocolate, then they'll be slightly disgusted.

    Another is too always have one speak slightly formally when they are speaking about things they want or things they want someone to do.

    You can assign arbitrary speech impediment--like a slight lisp or whatever.

    Have authority figures speak in E-prime. (remove all "to be" verbs).

    Just to name a few.
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm trying to do something similar, get in the head of two guys in my story. In a critique of my work, which I trust is correct, two key male characters have the wrong voice. If you're not the most creative person on the planet, where do you go to learn voices of other people? I believe this skill is learnable.
     
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Dialogue is really hard because you have to show two people connecting. My trick is to just write it and revise until I get the voices and interaction right. That then helps me to create a relationship between them, and the rest of their interaction is a lot easier. But there are no shortcuts, you have to make them alive on the page.

    Cogito has a good tutorial on his blog page, check it out for the mechanics of dialogue :)
     
  5. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Voice is a tricky issue.

    There is your voice as a writer

    There is your characters voices

    And then there is the voice of the story

    Most people will only be able to come up with maybe 5 character voices: then with various linguistic tricks and with the combining of character voices you can probably make about 10 - 15 or so more. Then you can out right steal a character voice or five from some other writer. But that's about it for voices that have some sort of depth to them anyway.

    Listening to people talking in restaurants or bars or on the bus will only help so far. Because writing good dialogue is not simply writing down the way people actually talk. Though watching people talking on their cell phones is pretty great for giving you a good idea how to depict body language and hand gesturing in dialogue. :D

    But then the "rules" of dialogue can actually help here, by narrowing field of things that need to be said.

    The only purpose for dialogue is to:

    Impart Information to the Readers.

    Reveal Character.

    and Move that Story forward.


    But then a major part of character voice is actually description.
     
  6. John Eff
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    John Eff Member

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    It can be a tricky area (particularly in first drafts) and one where it's all too easy to fall into the trap of characters speaking with the same voice: yours. As Jazz says, write it down then revise it as necessary to suit your characters' traits.

    When drafting, I try to divorce myself from the actual dialogue and write it as if I were the character. Tricky, and involving enough head hopping to give you a personality disorder, but it can be done,
     
  7. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Some of the best dialogue writers:

    Elmore Leonard

    John Steinbeck

    Jonathon Kellerman

    Janet Evanovich

    Sinclair Lewis

    James Lee Burke

    Tony Hillerman

    J. K. Rowling

    Douglas Adams

    Barbara Kingsolver

    Val McDermid

    Robert Heinlein

    Ross MacDonald

    Dean Koontz

    Randy Wayne White....

    umm...my brain just gave out.
     
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  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    even if they're not stereotypes, they can't all have the same cultural and social background, or the same personality, can they?... if they do, then they're not going to be believable characters regardless of how they speak...

    so, in developing them, introducing them to the reader, and writing their dialog, you need to have them be 'real people' in your mind... giving them whatever personality and background is needed for the role each one plays in the story... if you do that, then their dialog should vary enough to convince the reader that they're who/what they're supposed to be...

    you should have known/seen/heard enough different people in your life to be able to draw on them to create a suitably eclectic cast for your novel...

    hope this helps...
     
  9. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I like to keep in mind a few things while I'm writing dialogue...

    1. People say things different ways. For example, I never properly enunciate the word "darling." It always comes out as "da'lin'." And so, if I was writing dialogue for myself in a novel, I would write the word out as "da'lin'," instead of darling. The saem can be said fo any character. If you hear them say it differently than how it's typically pronounced, then spelling it that way in dialogue is a good idea that helps distinguish one character from another.

    2. Common mistakes in the English language. Most of the teenagers I know, personally, say things like, "Yeah, I seen that movie." This, of course, is not the proper way to say it, but because I know that there are a number of teenagers that say it, to work it into a piece of dialogue would make that character come across as an average (today) teenager.

    3. When doing longer phrases of dialogue, adding in "Uhm" or "Er" to characters whose thoughts aren't well-rehearsed or are off-the-cuff. This can be over-done, however, so I would suggest being careful with it.
     
  10. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like to keep track of - and it does help a lot to have it written down - things like:

    • Does the person use very literal language or is s/he more metaphorical?
    • Does the person get right to the point, or does s/he drone on and on and on and... ?
    • Does the person relate his/her experiences in the past tense or present tense when talking to others?
      • Example: so, I'm watching Batman Begins when it comes out, and I'm noticing...
    • Does the person neglect specific rules about syntax/grammar?
      • Example: maybe you have a character that doesn't use relative pronouns?
    • Does s/he change the subject a lot?
      • Example: maybe s/he assumes that the person s/he's talking to will make the unstated connection, have you seen the TV Tropes page Cloudcuckoolander?
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2013
  11. archerfenris
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    archerfenris Active Member

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    A very difficult subject. I'm in the first draft of my first book right now and this is the largest problem I see with my writing. I have several characters that are supposed to jump out of the page at the reader but it's very difficult finding the voice of such a unique person.
     
  12. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    My first bit of advice is to read a lot of dialogue and analyze it. Think of the characters, who they are, and how they way they talk shows it. Even read things that are written entirely in another voice. Then practice writing as someone else. Create a character, think about who they are, where they're from, what they're family is like, what they like, how they feel in the scene you want to write and then write it as if you were them. I'd use the same process for two characters in dialogue. Find the subtleties. Perhaps one character thinks quickly and says a lot at once, while the other doesn't. Or perhaps they are upset, and when they get upset they have trouble finishing sentences. Get creative in thinking about your characters and the voices will come as you get to know them better. The more practice the better.

    I have this same dilemma. What is helping me is simply reading a lot, writing more, and Watching how people really talk. If you can see the conversation happening, you can write it down. Just don't forget to cut the parts that make the conversation too mundane. (i.e. unless a character always says uh and um, such gaps can be cut). Remember, dialogue reveals character. Whoever your character is will come out when they talk.

    Take me, for example. I think a lot, and because of that I usually say a lot at once in these things. If you were to write me, you'd probably have to write me as someone who is continuously getting cut short, or told to shut up, or forgetting what he originally was talking about... idk ha ha. That's me lol. Don't write me like that >_<
     
  13. wolfenburg
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    wolfenburg Member

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    Have you ever tried interviewing your characters? Literally interview them. Make a list of questions you would ask this character as if you were the interviewer. Then answer these questions as the character you want to find the voice of. You will discover things about your character no amount of brainstorming would.

    Also, a trick that works well for me is gathering inspiration from actors. I'll go to IMDB.com and find actors that I feel would fit my character. I will sort of cast them for my story, then write the dialogue as if that actor is actually playing the part. This makes it much, much easier to imagine what sort of body language and words a character may use compared to the next. At least for me.
     
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  14. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    ^ This is very good advice! I will have to try this myself.
     
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  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Good dialogue is not the chit-chat. Good dialogue reveals character, motivations, relationships, etc. If your dialogue is focusing on these elements, your dialogue will already be well on its way of being distinctive for each character.

    However, as others have noted, everyone has some idiosyncrasies of speech. The first trick is to identify them for each character. The next, and often tougher trick, is to sprinkle them into the dialogue without overdoing it.

    As always, study novels by authors who do it well. You will know the good ones by how you react to that aspect of their writing.
     
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