1. Noya Desherbanté

    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

    Oct 26, 2010
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    wishing I was somewhere else...

    'Voices' and dialogue drama...

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Noya Desherbanté, Nov 23, 2010.

    I think I have the correct prose-to-dialogue ratio (never mind introspect and description, etc, everything tallies up), but my problem comes with characters' voices, and how to make them all sound different, or even interesting...

    What I'm fond of doing is adding an accent, even just a hint (none of your phonetic spellings, just a few shortened words, ain't's, ayes, ma for my, etc). But that becomes a huuge problem when you've got a Bristolian, Australian, Scot, Northern Irish, Cockney and Yorkshireman all inhabiting your tiny westcountry village...

    They say you should be able to put your hand over everything else, and be able to tell who's speaking just from the dialogue, but that is not happening here. :( Does anyone know of any dialogue devices other than accent/regionality to help tell characters apart??
  2. Elgaisma

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Jun 12, 2010
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    My big one is writing dialogue between my characters that won't go in the story. I also talk to them lol They keep blogs.

    I have a verbose character and a malaprop in my first book which were fun to write.

    Word boxes - each major character has one with words they will use but I wouldn't. I just pull some out at random and practice dialogue with them.

    Scrapbooks - pictures and thoughts/quotes that work with each character.

    Ultimately accepting they will be flat in the first draft - I need time to get to know them. They need time to get to know each other.
  3. HeinleinFan

    HeinleinFan Banned

    Jan 6, 2007
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    Yes. Fortunately, the things that let us identify speakers in real life are some of the ones that translate well to the page. Things like word choice, sentence length, confidence level, methods of address, technical knowledge, and how they change their words as the situation changes are all very useful. Plus, character traits -- shyness, tactless speaking, gossipy tendencies, obsessions over appearance or sex or pretty girls, swear words, a fondness for Cockney puns -- can get added into the mix.

    Note that not all of your characters have to be easily distinguishable from each other. But the ones who spend the most time together should be fairly easy to tell apart.

    Also, with regard to accents: pick the people who have the thickest accent and give them the "ma" for "my" sort of spelling changes. If half a dozen people all have different accents, maybe omit "ma for my" entirely, and use other hints -- slang, word choice, references that are regional in nature, noting that they speak more quickly or slowly or loudly or whatever than most.

    Some examples of different characters reacting to frustration:

    "What're you going to do, drop bally great rocks on me head?" Timothy shook his fist at the giggles coming from the treehouse. "Come down from there before yer mum sees yer."

    "Is that where you've been?" Sally asked, astonished. Red spots had appeared high on her cheekbones, the first sign that worry had begun its transformation to anger. "I've been searching all over the house for you, in your rooms, in the barn loft -- had me scared to death! Now come down before I come up there!" Three small heads poked out from the low westward wall of the treehouse, the oldest one grinning, the younger ones having the grace at least to look abashed.

    "Hey, Tobes, you up there?" Will cocked an eye at the treehouse, grinning. The instant he'd heard Sally calling for the kids, an idea formed in his mind. "Tobias, you sneak, come on! Aunt Sally's looking for you. Come with me and we can go over to my house, share stories and candy." He spoke with the confident, pursuasive tones of a ten-year-old whose parents were often away and unlikely to punish him. "C'mon, Tobes, it'll be fun!"

    "Mebbe we should come down," Agatha whispered, feeling the wind curl over the playhouse walls and blow her bangs aside. "'Snot as much fun when people are mad at you."
    She looked back over her shoulder. Little Tobias was curled up in the corner, a blanket wrapped around his knees and a Richard Scarry book open in front of him. He was silently mouthing the words. Now and then, he or the wind would turn a page, and he'd read on from there.
    Kelly, though, looked unconvinced. She was just turned nine, and had been around long enough to become almost blase toward disobedience. There were rules and rules, she had opined, and since climbing the playhouse without telling anyone was only a non-serious rule, none of them would be swatted for it or find their toys taken away. Now she had her hand in a bag of peanuts, and her eyes were up over the the playhouse walls, scanning the fields and hedges for pirates or monsters or evil witches come to take their castle away. Finally she turned toward Agatha. "Half an hour," she said, and pointed up. "Just til the sun goes past the leaves there."
    Agatha peered up at the place where Kelly was pointing, a clump of foliage dark on the edges but pale yellow in the middle. When the sun hit it, Agatha knew, the leaves lit up like tiny lanterns.
    "'Kay," she agreed, and stepped over to the wee trunk where they kept the playhouse toys. She felt certain she'd left Treasure Island here last time, and she wanted to know what the pirates were going to do with Jim.
  4. Melzaar the Almighty

    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

    Aug 28, 2010
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    Agree that the only way to write the characters differently enough is just to keep writing them. It's good to listen with a fresh ear to the way your friends talk. I know a guy who has a habit of starting a sentence. Then he gets a bit... uncertain if he needs... to keep talking... in case people already... guessed what he was going to say... and... finishes it... really slowly. His girlfriend talks fast and loud and uses a lot of long, intelligent words and is always interrupting, so, writing dialogue between my two real friends, you'd begin to see a pattern of (okay, I wouldn't emphasise the guy's trailing speech QUITE so much) his words always being cut off with an interruption from her to the point where, if there were 3 or more people in the conversation, seeing someone else's speech end, "or something and -- " you'll know the next line will be her finishing their thought for them and carrying on with her own idea. You can see how his habit of speech is shaped by the fact she always talks over him anyway.

    I mean, that was just a real life example. But look out for stuff like that and reuse it for your stories. I'm a terrible person for saying, "erm" or just trailing off indefinitely because I forgot what I was saying. Some people I know have a very set load of phrases, so building up on that could make quite comic moments if it's long established that one character might say, "Oh... that's nice!" and then reuse it in a slightly inappropriate way... It's all about just writing and learning people.
  5. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Nov 21, 2006
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    Coquille, Oregon
    yes... the simplest, most effective way is with syntax... plus the use of idioms...
  6. Vince524

    Vince524 Member

    Dec 1, 2010
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    I try and hear the person's voice in my head, their accent, their word choice. Do they stutter. DO they use a lot of oh mys or something else? Are they proper speakers. Maybe they state commands as a question.

    Sometimes it takes awhile to get that voice right. That's what revisions are for.

    Little things like, "I mean" or "uh, wait.." lend voice sometimes. Word choice too. IS the person using the words that a 16 year old, 5 year old 50 year old would use? Do they talk in run on sentences?

    "I heard from Eric, that Billy told Joey that her heard from John John, that he saw good old Gary trying to hit on Lucy and she was laughing in his face. I mean, it was hysterical!! Crash and burn baby!!"

    "The scuttlebug has it that Gary finally made his move on Lucy with less then stella results."

    "I understand that Gary spoke to Lucy today, attempted to court her. She showed excellent taste in her response."

    Stuff like that.

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