Today, let’s talk about how your character talks.
Speech is important. It not only expresses what a character is thinking, but it also gives you insight into what this character is really like, based on their word choices, regional dialect and rhythms.
Beginning writers often make all of their characters sound the same. Why? Because they’re all just variations on the writer who created them. There might be a lot of back-and-forth dialogue where a character seems more like a prop for the hero to expound on an idea – it essentially is a monologue with one person prodding the other to go on. And on. AND ON!
That is not what you’re aiming for. Instead, you want individual characters with their own quirks of speech.
I’m not saying you need to make one character rap out all his or her sentences with 21st century slang, while another broods in Olde English and iambic pentameter, but giving each character a distinctive voice is still important.
Think about what kind of character you’re dealing with. My MC is a ninja, so she tends to be more of a silent observer than a chatterbox. It’s part of her nature. She’d be a pretty crappy ninja if she was always getting caught singing in the woods instead of silently creeping up on her targets!
Then again, that could also be an interesting character flaw. A noisy ninja! She can never complete her assignments, because the enemy always hears her coming from a mile away. (Something I might have to keep in my back pocket for a funny story.)
Your character’s voice is probably different. Male and female characters talk differently (especially in relationships), and kids talk differently than adults, too. What kind of vocabulary does your character have? Are the the loquacious type, or the kind that gets straight to the point? Do they use clichés or local sayings? Do they like to make everything all about them?
Think, too, about the genre of your story. Science-fiction stories tend to have more jargon in them than romances, for example. (But, of course, you could be writing a romance between two scientists, featuring a little of both!) Your genre may dictate some of the ways your characters speak, or it might give you good reasons to break all the rules and give your characters unruly voices.
Just remember to keep each character’s voice consistent. If you take away all the dialogue tags (“he said”/”she said”), would you be able to correctly identify the characters speaking? If so, you’ve got strong, consistent character voices. If not, it’s back to the drawing board!
Another good trick: write the way you want the character to say the line in the dialogue itself. Instead of writing:
“I don’t like the way you said that,” Tabitha said angrily.
You could try:
“I told you never to call me Tabby-Cat!”
It’s a playwriting secret I picked up from one of my creative writing professors. He warned us that directors will do things their own way, so if you want to be sure the actors will convey your lines as written, don’t use dialogue tags (or, in the case of playwriting and screenwriting, additional notes before or after your dialogue) to explain what you just had them say. Let them say it and be done. Trust the reader to understand the emotion of the lines in context.
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See you tomorrow with a new prompt!