1. joy4856
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    joy4856 New Member

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    Setting Character personality during dialogue ?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by joy4856, Dec 29, 2015.

    My dialogue seems bland. Honestly I cant even tell the difference between them during a conversation. They both sound like they have the same voice and personality. This is my first book. How do I improve my dialogues.
     
  2. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, start by figuring out what their personalities are and how that impacts their voice...both of them should be different from your voice and the authorial voice.

    What's their cultural background? Region of origin? Age? Education level? Subculture membership? That all impacts speech.

    My main character, Nina Constantinos, is a Greek-American political journalist who had a pretty wholesome life in Wisconsin until she moved to the big city. Her roommate/sidekick, Vinya Jain, is an Indian-American fashion and music blogger from Southern California whose life prior to the story would be charitably described as a "hot mess".

    These two women are the same age (26 and 27), best friends, roommates, and co-workers - but their inputs are so wildly different that they do not talk at all the same way.

    So, let's say they're driving down the Washington Beltway and some idiot changes lanes in front of them and forces them to slam the brakes to avoid an accident.

    If Nina is at the wheel, her response would be: "What the heck!? People in this city are nuts!"

    If Vinya is at the wheel, it's: "What the f**ck?!" *honks horn* "Hella uncool! Hold on, I'm gonna go 405 nuts on this a**hole. Like, seriously, dude?"

    I just edited that Vinya line about three times to try and get it right with her SoCal syntax, and I'm still not totally happy with it - so part of it is playing around and rearranging words until they sound right for the character. But I know that Nina says "heck" a lot, generally speaks complete and simple sentences, and doesn't add a lot of extraneous filler or slang.

    Vinya, on the other hand, like, totally throws in a f***-ton of filler words, valley-girl-isms, profanity, and slang terms. She also motormouths and doesn't shut up, whereas Nina was done in two sentences.

    So it's just a matter of getting to know them - and making a few rules as to who does what with their speech patterns.
     
  3. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    All the character...well 90% are best on people in real life. its fiction but i used other people as inspiration so my characters often act and sound like those people. Maybe use someone you know in real life or even a celebrities personality as a reference.
     
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  4. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would recommend picking one or two conversational quirks that feel unnaturally forced when you first write a sentence of dialogue around them, then changing the sentences to make the quirk(s) sound more natural.

    For example: my favorite character that I do this with is a guy who doesn't use relative pronouns if I can possibly avoid them.

    Also, what people care enough to talk about says at least as much about them as does the way that they talk about it. Have you ever tried using typing systems (MyersBriggs, D&D alignment, Hogwarts Houses) to distinguish characters from one another?
     
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  5. shlunka
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    shlunka Member

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    Simple. Social quirks, accents, and perspective. If you wanted to... you could study phonology. Or just construct different modes of speaking:

    "Good morning."

    "Ahhhh, good morning" - Prolonged, multi-syllable. Some people will begin sentences with "Eh, uh, ah, hmmm" more regularly than others. I've used these insignificant phrases to designate one character's dialog from another (usually a character that is indecisive or passive).

    Similar dialog suggests similar characters, differentiate your characters more and you shouldn't have this problem.
     
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  6. joy4856
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    joy4856 New Member

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    What are type systems?
     
  7. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Systems that fit people into descriptive categories so that you can see at a glance how they are similar and how they are different.
     
  8. Bandag
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    I had this exact problem. To train myself to write characters with different viewpoints, I wrote a series of interactions with ridiculously different characters with outlandish and opposing agendas. For example, I wrote an argument between an african warlord and a shaolin monk who had found an abandoned nuclear submarine and were arguing over who got to keep it.

    Write racists arguing with moderates. Write hippies arguing with their investment banking parents over life choices. Get super cliched. Then get less extreme until you end up with people who feel genuine.
     
  9. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd be careful about going too overboard with distinctive verbal ticks. If they fit the character, great, include them, but don't warp your characters JUST to have them.

    Most people who hang out with each other regularly adopt a lot of the same language usage. Most people from similar backgrounds speak in similar ways. If your characters have different backgrounds, this may come out in their language, but that's hardly the only way to add characterization to your work.

    Read your favourite books and study the dialogue. Is every character totally distinct? If you cut out the tags, would you always know who was speaking? If not? It's not a problem. Remember, these are your favourite books!
     
  10. Wolfmaster1234
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    Wolfmaster1234 Member

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    Well if you haven't already work out the back story of your main characters, everything important even if it doesn't feature in the book. Everybody is shaped by their experiences, the way the act, the way they talk. To add personality to their dialogue you needed fully understand your character then think how they would talk based on that. Do they talk in short sentences and reveal little because of negative past experiences and trauma. Do they use vivid vocabulary and long complex sentences because they are highly educated and a bit of a snob. You need to develop their personality by what you think the effect of their past experiences would be on them.
     
  11. Aster
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    Aster Member

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    The unique voice of your characters will come out in the way they react in certain situations and contexts.

    An exercise might help.

    Pretend you host your own late night show. Like Conan O'Brien or Jimmy Fallon. Your guests tonight are your original characters. Write the scene!

    Have your characters react to your questions as you think their personalities would dictate.

    To clarify I don't mean just ask a question and then answer it on behalf of your character. I mean you ask your character a question. Your character responds to you.

    If you do this I'd really like to see it! Maybe post it in this thread.
     
  12. R.P. Kraul
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    R.P. Kraul Member

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    Identifying the personalities is important. In my first novel, there were three primary characters:

    Female journalist - quiet and guarded. Her verbal cue is that she's economical with her words but tends to speak in complete sentences, and she rarely answers a direct question--or she responds with her own question (this ties to her guarded nature).

    Retired county police chief - introspective and pragmatic, he often makes a point with analogy rather than doing it directly. His verbal cue of "uh-huh" indicates he thinks the other person is feeding him a line of BS.

    Antique store owner (and former boxer) - outgoing personality, very economical with his words and blunt; doesn't waste time on perfunctory stuff. In fact, he often leaves out words. Instead of saying, "What the hell's the matter?" He would say, "Hell's the matter?"

    Some general things to keep in mind about dialogue:

    1) Dialogue isn't real speech. It's an abbreviated form of real speech. Dialogue is to real speech as synthetic division is to long division.
    2) Rarely do people say what they're thinking or answer the question that's really being asked. Not only are people generally not great verbal communicators, they also have personal agendas.
    3) In dialogue scenes, think about these agendas. What does each character hope to gain from this talk? Is this a conversation one of the characters hopes to avoid?
    4) The characters have lives outside the story--one hopes. Not every conversation should revolve around the story.
     
  13. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wait a minute - are we writing the same MC? :p
     
  14. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    An easy way to start...

    Decide what each character wants during a particular scene. Everything he/she says will reflect this.

    Write the scene, complete with dialogue.

    Go back and rewrite the dialogue for one character and give him/her vocal foibles... This amounts to vocabulary and attitude as well as favoured expressions. One character might take 100 words to say the same thing another character would express in 15.

    Do the same for all other characters in the scene.

    Keep in mind, too, that some characters will interrupt others (impatience = attitude) while others will allow themselves to be interrupted (self-consciousness = attitude).
     
  15. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Good advice all around. I'm with Bayview watch being overly clever. Friends tend to sound like each other - the only difference being sometimes are their attitudes, opinions, feelings.

    And that could be where you need to tweak things. The problem with a lot of dialogue is it can tend to push plot and leave the characters in the dust. They're busy talking politics, fighting villains, journeys, goals, murders. And if they're all highly motivated for the same outcome - catch the murderer, beat the villain, complete the journey it can make the dialogue somewhat one note. How to separate them and still keep the plot involved is to consider each characters feelings, motives, baggage.

    For instance say you're writing a group of characters about to pull a heist. Maybe one is methodical, but maybe one is bluffing because he doesn't have experience, maybe one is not taking things seriously and is only interested in the thrill of the experience and the other is dreaming of how he's going to spend the money. All this undercurrent is going to shift the details discussed. Their goal is the same but their attitudes approaching it creates the difference. The root of the problem could be that your characters are too focused on the main goal rather than their own attitudes approaching it.
     
  16. semolinaro
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    semolinaro New Member

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    How well do you know your characters? If you're having this problem, it might help to write short summaries for each of your characters that include age, gender, sign (if you believe in those sorts of things) and a brief bio about their traits and about their backstory. Read over this a few times, and you should start feeling the dialogue flow naturally.

    Another thing that helps is to think about what makes your characters different from one another. In a certain situation, how would one character react differently to another? If they both watched someone die before their eyes, would one cry and the other react more silently? Vice versa? Play around with it, and you should get your groove. Best of luck!
     

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