Friday, March 25, 2011

Developing Characters, Part 5: Speech

There are many types of "voice" in writing.  The type of voice I'm talking about today is speech.  How do your characters speak?  Do they all sound like carbon copies of each other or do they all sound unique? 

Even when I'm just starting out with a book and I'm still figuring out who the characters really are, I always hear them in my head.  The way they would say something, the way they wouldn't say something.  Everyone has a different voice.  Different accents, different phrases, some very blunt, some very quiet.  I have some characters who speak very formally due to background and upbringing.  I have some characters who are more crass.  The things that characters say can be as important as the way in which they say them. 

As with characters' personalities, different things influence their speech: who they hang around, what they hear, what they read, what they do, what their personalities are.

Let's say I have some characters who all want to tell me they found my missing cat.  They might all have very different ways of saying it.  If I read someone talking, I might be able to figure out who is speaking just because of the way they say it.

Character 1: "I found your mangy old cat."

Character 2: "Hey, sweetheart, I think this is your cat."

Character 3: "I do believe I have found your animal."

Character 4: "Hello, Mrs. J.  Were you aware that a domestic cat can run at speeds of thirty miles per hour?  Your feline was very difficult to catch."

Character 5: "Is this yours?  This stupid thing was hanging around in my barn!  It scratched me!  You're going to pay for this!"

Character 6: "Is this your kitty?  She's so cute!  Can I play with her?  Can I come and visit her sometimes?  Can I bring her a treat?"

The way a character talks says a lot about them.  Do you "hear" your characters when you're writing them?  Do they all sound different to you or are you unsure about how they speak?

One way that might help if you're having trouble finding a voice is to do what I did in the above example: pick a scenario and figure out how each of your characters would approach talking about the same subject.  Writing their actions might help, too.  Maybe one character is so shy that she just hands over the kitty and runs away without saying anything.

Do any of you have certain writing exercises that help you if you're having trouble with character voice?


  1. While I do not typically see my characters, hearing them is definitely something I can do! :) Typically the voice is what I hang everything on, and let the reader decide what everyone looks like.

  2. My characters don't like to talk much. It's a major flaw of mine. I think as the storyteller I like to hog the limelight and my characters get shortchanged. Of course, that could also be why I get distracted and never actually finish anything I write. Or maybe that's just my ADD...

  3. This is a great exercise. I definetly need to work on this more while I revise my WIP.

  4. What a fantastic idea, Laura. I love the idea of putting each of your characters in the same situation and see how they would respond. Such a great way to get each of his/her voices in your head. I will definitely be trying that.

  5. Kate-I love your character voices!

    Sabrina-Aww, maybe one day you'll get one of your stories finished! (And if you do, I volunteer to read it!)

    Kari-Good luck with your revisions! Revising can be so hard.

    Heather-Thank you! I hope it might be useful to you. :)

  6. I'll be honest, I used to be awful at dialogue. It was a weakness of mine. Someone told me to practice, so I did, day in and day out I practiced.

    November 2010 I sent my MS to a publishing house and they came back with a revise & resubmit and told me one thing "Do not lose your voice, it was amazing and your dialogue was great". My editing was the problem... back to the drawing board!

    I'm stopping in to welcome you to the A-Z Blogging Challenge!!! I'm a co-host so should you need anything I'm here to help!! Feel free to stop by my blog to say hello or join us on Twitter (I'm @jenunedited)!!

  7. Jen-Editing and revising is rough, but it's great that they liked it enough to ask you to revise and resubmit!

    Thank you so much for the welcome! I have no idea what I'm doing with this whole A-Z challenge. I went to follow you on Twitter. :)


Thanks for sharing your thoughts!