1. aimeekath
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    aimeekath New Member

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    Dialogue - How do you create a distinct 'voice' for each character?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by aimeekath, May 3, 2012.

    The query is all in the title, really. I have some dialogue in my novel (obviously) but it's always very flat as they're normally discussing tasks that they have to do, or asking questions. However, I would like each of my characters to have a unique voice, and actually have something interesting to say.

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    How do I go about doing that?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Listen.

    Peoplewatching is a valuable "hobby" for a writer. Pay attention to word choices and phrasing patterns in conversations you overhear. When you hear somebody that doesn't sound local, listen for the wording clues that give it away. Accent is only one part of it; regional wording (dialect) is often a stronger cue.
     
  3. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt New Member

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    Get to know your characters better. When I know who my characters are, I find that their dialogue becomes more distinctive to their personality.
     
  4. aimeekath
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    aimeekath New Member

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    Thank you both for your advice, it's really helpful. I will defintley try to listen more, I think this could give me some valuble insight. I should try not to be creepy whilst peoplewatching though! Also, I guess that I could work out who my characters are a bit more, as I'm in quite early stages.
     
  5. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Not sure the OP meant they want them to literally SOUND different, i.e. with accents or diction. I think it was more like distinct voice in terms of CHARACTERISATION they were after. People watching works for that too though.

    However, if the actual SUBSTANCE of your dialogue is dull and flat, you might want to look at when and why you're using it. If it's merely a plot exposition tool, or a running commentary on what's going on, you may need to find more effective and interesting ways to use dialogue altogether.
     
  6. Piankhy
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    Piankhy New Member

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    Dress up as your character would, get in their mindset/personality, change your speech to their speech and go talk to people. You might find out that your proper speaking character might use slang or maybe they like using big words to sound important. This might seem stupid to do but it worked out for me. Although I will admit that striking up conversations with complete strangers, did get me in some weird situations. But hey, weird situations is good writing material ^.^

    Also I agree with what everyone else suggested, especially the people watching thing. Good luck!
     
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  7. BallerGamer
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    BallerGamer New Member

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    +1 This. I used to have the same problem. I would look over my dialogue and it would feel off and not exciting. I thought that maybe using different and more sophisticated words would spice it up. Then I realized sometimes they're not needed and it was much better to paraphrase and simplify a passage or dialogue. Like sometimes I would spend 5 lines on a conversation about two people wanting to leave a restaurant, when I could have just said "Bob motioned to Janet that he wanted to leave. Janet was reluctant, wanting the food to settle in first, but she heeded." And there's nothing wrong with that.
     
  8. madhoca
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    madhoca Senior Member Contributor

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    Think about people you know well. Do they have certain "mannerisms" in their speech, favourite words and phrases, good or bad grammar, do they answer a question with a question, do they say tactless things etc etc. How does their speech match up with their appearance and character?
    It might help you to write down a short conversation you had with one or two friends recently (give it your POV but put yourself in 3rd person as another character). If you take the names away, can you clearly see which speaker is you, and which ones are your friends?
     
  9. aimeekath
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    aimeekath New Member

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    Thank you! The whole dressing up thing sounds really weird but fun!

    Thanks, I think I should definitely take that into account because that is pretty much what I'm doing. I don't know how else I could use dialogue, but I guess I'll go read some books and see how dialogue is used there?

    Oh! That's interesting.

    Thank you all for your help again!
     
  10. MeganHeld
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    MeganHeld New Member

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    When I write my dialogue I give them a few words that they only use. It makes it feel like their own voice.

    Also, try to word the sentences differently. One character may use full, proper sentences, while another uses more fragments or shorter sentences. The wording of phrases can play a big part I find. Think of the conversations you have with people. That should also help pick up on how to word dialogue. You can read books too because each writer uses dialogue a certain way.
     
  11. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    That's good advice, and something I forgot to mention.

    I have two characters who are both 'police chiefs' of different places - one in the capital city, and one in a smaller, more provincial town. The city chief is an aristocrat and uses very eloquent rhetorical phrases, with sub clauses and complex sentence structure, fancy legal terms etc., demonstrating he has been exposed to sophisticated society and has an extensive education. My provincial town chief speaks like a self-made big fish in a small pond, who doesn't have a lot of time or patience for niceties - curt, to the point sentences, no big words, no fancy expression, just gets the job done. He also uses a lot more profanity, idioms and oaths.

    Thing is, they're actually brothers in law. One of the most fun scenes to write was where they both get drunk, and posh boy's eloquence rather goes down the toilet and you can hardly tell which one's language is more common and profane ;)
     
  12. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Senior Member Contributor

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    I agree with the advice to get to know them better. The only way to make character speech sound real is to know them really well, down to the sound of their voice and personal vocabulary.
     
  13. Maiseyday
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    Maiseyday New Member

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    There is little more to say after all the good advice you've been given here Nakhti, but I would say that some years ago I was worried at having to post a piece of work which identified dialect as I thought I just couldn't do it, but was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn't as difficult as I first imagined. Actually listening, as opposed to thinking we're listening to people speaking, does work, as does noting their idiosyncrasies. I definitely agree with Meganheld as, rather than filling your character dialogue with dialect, a few words which your character repeats does go a long way to identifying character. I found the TV programme 'Planet Word' presented by Stephen Fry very interesting and entertaining; so much so I bought the book! Everything helps.
     
  14. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I always try to base my major character's speech on a real person, someone I hear speak often. That way, they all sound distinct.
     
  15. thecoopertempleclause
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    thecoopertempleclause New Member

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    Try some exercises for you characters, think of a piece of information or a thought you want to express in dialogue, and then have each character express the same thought in their own voice.

    For instance, as someone here mentioned about wanting to leave the restaurant:

    Character 1: "Do you mind if we head off? I'm feeling really tired."
    Character 2: "Hate to eat and run, but I'm knackered."
    Character 3: "Well, I do believe it's time we made an exit. I'm yawning a fair bit here."
    Character 4: "Yo, scrotum-face, let's motor!"
     
  16. BallerGamer
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    BallerGamer New Member

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    Yeah I've also been taught this, and just to add, you don't need to go over the top with this. It could only be a single word that they use throughout the book and that would be enough to give them their unique and distinct voice. I forget what book it was but there was one character that used "On account of" all the time and it made him distinguishable, however if you took out all the "On account of" that was said by that character in the book and replaced it with more simplistic synonyms, the character suddenly has no distinguishing traits speech wise.
     
  17. Ventis
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    Ventis New Member

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    Get to know them better. And it works similar way as with real people - talk to them, spend some time together. If you wrote that a character is a fan of soccer, watch a match or two with them. Meaning, try to imagine how would they react if their team scored. Or if the best player was injured. What would they say? What would they do? How many beer would they drink? Etc. I know it sounds crazy, but it always works for me. :D
     
  18. KRHolbrook
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    KRHolbrook Member

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    How your characters talk (not their accent, but the sentence structure of their speech) depends on the actual characters. Who've they been around? What's their background? Where are they from? What's their personality like?

    My main character has had a rough past, had been around a lot of bad-mouthing men when younger, thus speaks with a lot of sarcasm and curse words. Her sister never really witnessed these men, and she keeps her innocence. She's entirely optimistic and never says anything bad, and always points out the good things.

    I work in a place where whenever we get a break, there's a whole lot of people in one room with a whole lot of gossip going on. One lady just constantly talks and talks and talks about everything and nothing. Another has nothing but negativity coming out of her mouth. Another constantly talks about how guys are assholes and complains about men in general no matter what the conversation first started as. So basically, as other people have said, it's good to get out and be around others--not necessarily people-watch, but people-listen.
     
  19. phyrlord
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    phyrlord New Member

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    I think your looking at character design in the wrong way (too simple). I find the best characters have distinct characteristics about them that make them real. You want to start on a characters issues and how that effects them and project that to the reader physically maybe? For example. In one of my stories, the main character constantly has dreams of his family who are long dead. The nightmares haunt him almost every night and this as a pretty drastic physiological affect on him when he's awake. He constantly think's he see's his wife walking just past the edge of a door way and etc...

    Work on making your characters real by giving them real world problems and tics and involve that in the way you write the character. You don't have to get too drastic with it because then it just comes on gimmicky.

    I hope that helps to add some weight to your characters.
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Dialogue should serve a purpose beyond reporting conversation. Dialogue is a tool for character definition and elucidation. It can be used to show a relationship.

    If you only want to report what was said, just summarize it and report it in narration.

    Good dialogue is as much about what is NOT said as what is said. Does one person in the conversation steer the topic away from certain topics? Is there a double meaning to what a character is saying? What is the real topic as far as person A is concerned? What about person B's topic? They are often not the same. What is the emotional context for each participant? Is either person saying anything about what he or she is REALLY talking about?

    Consider a man and a woman stopping for lunch on a long trip. Both are less than satisfied with the relationship, for different reasons. Behind their small talk over lunch, you can pick up shadows of the dissatisfaction and tension in the phrasing and body language. Try writing such a conversation.
     
  21. aimeekath
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    aimeekath New Member

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    Great. Thank you for your advice :)
     
  22. Ali
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    Ali New Member

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    A well respected British writer of TV comedy once said in interview that his friends all thought he suffered from a weak bladder as he would frequently disappear at dinner parties and social functions to go to the loo (toilet). What they didn't realise is that he had a notebook in his pocket in which he noted down interesting dialogue he had heard.
    On a personal note I have met interesting characters who I would like to capture and bring to life....I have noticed that if I do not get the exact words that they used then the whole tone of their speech changes and I have 'lost' them. I would love to be able to record people and study their syntax and vocab after along their use of pauses etc...but you put your finger on it when you said it's important not to be creepy. I'm still working our how to do it. Let me know if you get a technique, Alex
     
  23. Fivvle
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    Fivvle New Member

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    A character's voice will come out in dialogue according to context. A character who gets nervous about a subject may take a lot of pauses, perhaps stutter, maybe just try and end the conversation. That sounds pretty obvious, I guess. Also, characters may like to refer to things that they like a lot, or may use simpler words or more obscure words depending on their knowledge of the language or as a result of them wanting to sound smarter/dumber than they actually are. There are a lot of reasons people do things, and it will often reflect in their speech.
     

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