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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dialogue—distinct voice

Separate from your own unique writer’s voice is each individual character’s voice. Sometimes writers will not make each character’s own dialogue distinct enough to be able to tell characters apart.

Many times, if you remove the dialogue tags and action beats from a scene of dialogue, the two characters will sound exactly alike, whether it’s two men, two women, or a man and a woman.

Each character should be so individual that even their speech patterns are distinct. I’m not talking about dialect or slang.

Lots of things can contribute to character voices--pacing and rhythm, word choice, grammar, sentence length, casual versus formal. Don’t cop out and give one person a lisp or a dialect—try to make them unique just by their words alone.

You, as the writer, know who is who as you hear each character talking in your head. The challenge is to convey the distinction on the page to the reader.

One exercise I like to do is to take an incident and have different characters tell it. Often, I can see—and hear in my head—the differences between them as the characters convey the exact same information as each other. It’s especially useful if I’m seeing that two characters tend to use the same phrasing as each other—it’s a clue for me to try to change their character voices to be more distinct.

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