Don’t talk like me!

So I’m a newbie writer. By that I mean I haven’t been writing seriously for long. I’m bound to make mistakes, everyone is. One that I have to keep my eye on is writing individual dialogue. It is super-duper easy to write individual characters talking all the same… as I talk. For narrative it’s totally fine but characters, need their own voice. Even with the best of intentions I find it easy to forget the little things that keep that character unique.

So what do I do about it? I refer to my character bio’s often, where I keep specific details on each individual. I establish a clear voice in my head of how each person sounds. How they contract certain words, what jargon they use. Do they say yes or yeah. No or na. It doesn’t have to be a lot of differences for every character, but one or two distinct variations.

Here are some ways to make a character speak distinctly from others. (*Extreme suggestions should really be limited to one character)

  • Never contracts words*
  • Uses old-fashioned words such as indubitably, propitious and quiescent *
  • Says um or ah from time to time
  • Uses pauses for dramatic effect
  • Says Yes only or often uses Yeah
  • Uses similes all the time
  • Constantly uses metaphors
  • Never stops with puns(Must be well done and fit the scenario)
  • Jargon junkie
  • Says the word Like, like all the time.
  • Uses nicknames
  • Uses local dialect
  • Never swears (Could be cute about substituting “Holy Christmas that’s loud!”
  • Swears often or has a favorite swear word they use like a noun.
  • Calls everyone dear or hun
  • Geographical slang such as Y’all or Eh.

This list can go on and on. The point is to give each character a vocal quirk to make them unique from my own way of speaking. Now if you use a phrase or a character has a very unique verbal quirk, it’s fun to have someone else pick it up. As long as they or someone else point it out for fun. It needs to be addressed in a humorous way for it to make sense to the reader.

“Listen up everyone.” Terry waited for everyone’s attention. Scott clenched his jaw and forced himself not to groan. Amber bit her lip and looked at her newly fascinating pen. This was going to be a boring meeting.
Terry straightened his tie before continuing. “As you two are abundantly aware we are competing with Laverne and Associates to win the contract for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”
Dale rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “You can just say RCMP.”
In Dale’s opinion Terry wasn’t the right designer for this high-profile project. Sasha should  be heading up this one or Scott. Dale let Valery know he wasn’t thrilled to be working with Terry.
“No I cannot.”
“Tight-ass Terry will sink this project faster than the titanic.” Dale muttered to Amber and she snickered behind her hand.
“Do you have something to say Dale?”
“Nope.” Dale cracked his neck from side to side. “Go on, dazzle us with your recycled ideas.”
Terry narrowed his eyes and clenched his jaw; this was the worst possible team.

Dale is a ‘Nope’ kind of guy because he’s brash, rude and often insubordinate. He uses it often but not to people he likes. Terry, well he’s the pompous blowhard unaware he has little talent of his own. He’s disrespected, so uses big words and speaks in what he perceives to be smart.

My advice about character dialogue quirks.
It is extremely important for your character to stand out from the others and the narrative. Even if it’s just a little. Put thought into it and if the character is from a region you’re not familiar with do some research to find out if there is a local dialect or saying used. 

-Sheryl

Other posts:
Oops! What did I just say?

It’s really very unnecessary

Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved
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5 thoughts on “Don’t talk like me!

  1. Perfectly said. Keeping the character “in caracter” is important and absolutely sets the scene for the type of individual they are and whether they ar likeable or not, affectionate (demonstrative) and I love your example. Pure perfection, I say. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true, which is why I limit them to specific characters and don’t over do it. If it doesn’t read naturally I take it out. The point is to allow the reader to ‘hear’ their voices differently when they read. It’s definitely not easy to do consistently and well.

      Liked by 1 person

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