Have you ever read a novel where every character sounds like the same person. Did you finish reading it?
There are two prep steps to help your readers imagine distinct characters, and then we’ll look at ways to change how they sound.
Choosing memorable names for your characters is step one. That’s an article in itself, Naming Your Characters. A few quick tips. Find a name that fits the character type or sounds like what they do. Use some long names, some short. Check names in Google to be sure you aren’t using the name of some famous person you’ve never heard of before so you won’t be sued for libel.
The second step is an easy one. Describe each character as they appear and reference that description when they reappear later in the novel. Readers will remember “the guy with the soul patch” if he’s the only one.
Names and descriptions are a good start at making characters into individuals. The third step is making them sound different. You are naturally going to write similar to how you talk. The easy way to write conversations is to say what you would say. Is that what your characters would say? Some characters will talk like you, but most won’t if you’re any good. And I know you’re good because you’re not just writing. You’re reading blogs with writing tips.
Here are some ways to make your characters sound different.
The first one below is a good starting point for all of your significant characters. Start with personality and then add more unique speech identifiers depending on how large a role they play.
Give Your Characters Personalities
Characters can be aggressive, shy, authoritarian, shifty, happy go lucky, sober, any short description of personality. A good kick start for this is writing a list of short descriptions of people you know. Some authors even create characters based on real people.
Don’t use this one unless you know the regional accent and slang well. Even then, the dialogue can be irritating to read. It’s best used with a minor character.
Odd Speech Habits or Unique Sayings
A small number of people add odd words to their speech as a way of making themselves unique. They might say “howdy” instead of “hi” even though they’ve never lived in the southwest. Some Canadians end every sentence with “eh”. Maybe a character calls others Batman. They could have a habit of ending a lot of sentences with, “if you know what I mean”.
There are also characters who are hooked on a meme they repeat every chance they get. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.” “Every day is a new opportunity.” Avoid memes that may be trademarks like Nike’s “Just Do It”.
Some people insist on making it clear they are democrats, feminists, religious, hipster, or part of some other group. Have a character or two that always expresses what they are for or against in longer conversations. This is best for characters important enough to have long conversations.
This is another different sounding character that you had better know well before writing. You don’t need to know someone in real life to learn the speech patterns. Find a video blogger from the minority group, listen to how they talk, and take notes.
Some speakers use long sentences, others short. Real people often talk in fragmented sentences. Most of your characters should use complete sentences most of the time, but one that always talks in fragments will be unique. An example: “Got the car. Gassed her. Guns are on you. Ready?”
Conversely, you could have a character who speaks like a textbook with long complete sentences and no contractions.
What is a character’s main goal in life. Some people will constantly try to change the topic of conversation toward their main interest.
One character who swears a lot stands out among characters who don’t. Conversely, have one who never swears even when everyone around them is dropping f-bombs.
A character who clears their throat all the time, coughs a lot, or says “um” in nearly every sentence will stand out. This is another irritating one best used for a minor character.
Tone of Voice
This can be tough to get across in writing, but here are some examples. A feminine sounding male. A masculine sounding female. A gravely or high pitched voice.
Okay. It’s not a sound, but some people touch their ears, scratch their chin, wring their hands, or have other mannerisms that they do while talking. This can make them as memorable as a different way of speaking. You need to have characters doing something during a conversation anyway to show that their discussion isn’t happening in a void.
Match Their Word Choice to Their Career
A laborer, accountant, and minister will all choose different words to get their ideas across. You can find examples of people from any kind of career by searching for tips on the field and listening to video blogs.
The Double Idea Speaker
Have a character who always feels the need to express his ideas twice. “We’ll take my car to the meeting. I think my car would be the best choice because of the extra leg room.”
There are several kinds of joker. They may tell good jokes (if you can make up good ones), bad jokes (if you can’t make up good ones), make puns, or be funny in a sarcastic way.
The Rambling Inscrutable Character
It is sometimes said that the Japanese are inscrutable because of the way they are able to ramble on about generalities when asked a question and never get to the answer. The police find this especially annoying. One minor character with this trait is plenty.
Some people are interested in their environment, some only interested in people in the environment, and some oblivious to both people and their environment. Their level of attention will show in what they say.
Some dominant and controlling characters will always interrupt. Another type to keep to a minimum since they can be annoying to read.
There are a few ways you can work on developing unique sounding characters. Listen in on other people’s conversations in public places and pay attention to how they talk. You may feel a bit like an eavesdropper but they know others can hear them. Video blogs are another good source and you’ll be able to pick the subject.
Now you have some ways to make your characters sound different.
Article by Ivan Izo.