God created each human being uniquely, with different personalities. No one person is the same. Therefore their actions, thoughts, and especially their ways of speaking, reflect who they are. They each have distinct character voices.
Each and every one of your book characters has their own unique personality, just like people in real life.
In writing, you want to create authentic, relatable characters that have distinct personalities and voices. You want your readers to be able to tell who’s speaking without already being told. So when you write dialogue, you strive to reflect the personalities of your characters in unique, clear, and understandable ways.
Yet that is easier said than done. How exactly do you show your character’s personality just by their dialogue? And how do you stay consistent with that? How does it all impact your story?
In this article, we will go through these things. We will look at what it really means to write distinct character voices and how to do that.
What are your Characters’ Personalities, Anyway?
Before we get into the actual steps of writing good character voices, make sure you already know the personalities of your characters well. You can’t reflect your character’s personality if you don’t know their personality to begin with.
The best way to remember the specific nature of your characters is to create good character charts or sketches. If you don’t have the time two write something super detailed, then just write a few adjectives for your character’s personality. For example:
Bob Simmons–Funny, outspoken, naive
Make sure you keep this information all in one place, like an idea notebook or in a file on your computer.
So, if you haven’t done this already, then do it now. If you have, then keep on reading.
Pay Attention to the Way Others Speak
The goal in creating distinct character voices is to make those characters seem real so they can come alive in your readers’ minds. If you want your characters to be realistic, then model them after real-life people.
When you’re writing the voice of your characters, think about how a real person would talk. Don’t make your character’s speech too stiff, but also don’t make them stutter a lot or say things that don’t make sense unless the scene calls for it. There’s a good balance between those two things, and you can find the balance mostly in the speech of the people around you.
When people are nervous about something, then they typically stutter more and say things like “Oh”, “um”, “uh”, and “so”.
When people are confident, they might speak more directly and properly. If they are excited, they are more likely to talk louder or even shout.
When your characters are overly excited, make sure to use exclamation points in their speech.
To also describe what tone your characters are using when they speak, just describe it. Do you notice a difference between the three sentences below?
“This is a great day,” said Bob.
“This is a great day!” said Bob happily.
“This is a great day,” said Bob dully.
They are the same exact words being spoken, but I wrote them all in different tones! So when you’re writing character dialogue, make sure you describe exactly what their tone of voice is.
That doesn’t mean you have to always describe everything. Sometimes it’s obvious how your characters are talking, based on their previous actions or the punctuation you use. But it’s still good to take notice of how your characters’ voices sound and if you can describe them better.
Use Common Expressions in your Character Voices
What are some common expressions you’ve heard people say? Use those for your character’s dialogue.
Also, pay attention to how older people use certain expressions versus younger people.
If your main character is a teenager, it might be better to use common teenage expressions. If your character is an elderly person, then it might be better to use expressions that they may have used when they were young.
Like I said above, the key to this is to pay attention to the things other people say and the expressions and phrases they normally use.
Keep Character Personalities In Mind
The best way to create good, distinct character voices for each of your characters is to always keep in mind each of their personalities and the difference between all the characters in your story.
When you respond to something with words, you’ll probably respond to it differently than someone else might. Each of your characters should respond to the situations in your story differently. And the way they respond to things should be based on their personalities.
As I said earlier in this article, a good way to do that is by writing character charts, or at least descriptions of your characters’ main personality traits. You may not need to remember the individual personalities of all your side characters, but you will definitely need to keep in mind what your main characters’ personalities are, especially your protagonist’s.
One of the ways I like to differentiate between the personalities of my characters is to try and visualize what they would do if put in another character’s situation.
For example, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series), the White Witch deceives Edmund as she pretends to be kind to him. Imagine that one of Edmund’s siblings had been in his position instead; maybe Lucy, Susan, or Peter. How would they have reacted?
Doing this exercise can help you differentiate between your different character’s personalities. While some people might respond in one way, another person might respond totally differently. It all depends on the personality.
So when you’re writing dialogue, try to remember how this character’s personality relates to what they are about to say, and make sure it’s aligned.
Also, don’t forget your character arcs. The way your characters respond to things may change over the course of the story, and you need to make sure that what your characters say goes along with the changes that they go through in that arc.
So, to sum this section up, always remember what your character’s personality is and how they would respond to a certain situation. Are their feelings easily hurt when someone says something mean to them, or are they able to ignore that? Do they think about what they’re saying and choose their words carefully, or do they just speak their mind?
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Sometimes your characters say something, but it doesn’t come across the way it was intended to because there was no expression that went with the character’s words.
When you talk, do you talk like a robot? No. You express yourself, you make hand motions, you smile (or frown), and you do things that go along with what you’re speaking. So your book characters need to do that too.
Here is an example of good character dialogue and actions:
“Wow, I’m so impressed,” said Jody with her hands on her hips, obviously being sarcastic. “I mean, that banana peel scene, that was just amazing.” She rolled her eyes.
“Thank you,” said Bob with a bow. He didn’t catch on to Jody’s sarcasm.
Hands on her hips, with a bow, and rolled her eyes are some of the expressions used by these two characters, Jody and Bob. Now look at the scene without these descriptive elements:
“Wow, I’m so impressed,” said Jody. “I mean, that banana peel scene, that was just amazing.”
“Thank you,” said Bob.
Well, first of all, we can’t tell Jody was being sarcastic, and we can’t tell exactly how these characters are saying these things. Is Bob really saying “Thank you,” meaningfully or is he just being polite?
So as you’re writing your dialogue, consider what tone the character is talking in and what kind of actions they might be doing to show their emotions as they talk.
Read the Character Voice Aloud
I talked a little bit about this in my last post on Kingdom Pen, How to Edit Your Novel: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide. Reading your writing aloud helps you notice lots more mistakes you might not have seen before.
So when you read your dialogue aloud, try to think about it. Does it sound forced and unnatural, or too slow and chatty? Do your characters’ voices sound like their own, or someone else’s?
When you read your dialogue aloud, you can either read it to yourself, or you can read it to a group of people, like your friends and family. If you read to other people, they may have different perspectives on things than you do and that can help them notice more errors.
Make sure you set aside a specific time to do this, and get a quiet area to work in so you can focus without distraction. You want to be able to think clearly and try to differentiate between your character voices as you try to think as if you’re living in the scene.
Distinct character voices are very important reflections of who your characters are and how they act. Good character dialogue helps keep your readers interested and makes them feel like they’re a part of your story.
When you write dialogue, think about your characters’ personalities and how they would respond to the events in your story. Try to create that realistic, heart-capturing dialogue that keeps your readers’ minds alive as they read.
This week I challenge you to exercise some of the tips I mentioned in this article. Remember these six points as you’re writing, or apply them as you’re editing your novel, and you’ll notice a huge impact on how your characters act and speak.
What are some struggles you’ve had when capturing your characters’ personalities in their voices? What are some ways that your characters reflect their personalities through their words and actions? Share your thoughts in the comments below!