Tips for Character Voice?

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I've messed around with a few different story ideas and recently noticed that all my protagonists are too similar in terms of dialogue and mannerisms despite coming from different backgrounds. Any tips on how to differentiate them more?
 

ckatt

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Hi there RSE
One thing you can look at is sentence length. Who speaks in long complete sentences and who has shorter more cliped replies?
Does anyone tend to leave the subjects out of their sentences or maybe just pro nouns? Who's more pessimistic" Do they use more negatives rather than positives? i.e. "I won't stay here." vs "I am leaving. "
You can also look at verb use. Some people may tend to use was, got and had a lot while others may use more specific verbs. You could look at shorter vs longer latinate words, like told vs explained.
Keep in mind that a little goes a long way, and it can be easy to over do. Character voice doesn't just come from the words they use but the intention behind them as well. Do your characters have core beliefs that colour everything they say?

Just a few ideas to start. I'm eager to see what others have to say on this as well.
 

The Big Peat

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You could always try imitating other writers' styles for certain characters, and see if you get ideas/help from that. Or think of a movie character like your character, see how they speak.
 

Bramandin

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I once wrote a fanfiction where I did a decent job on one character's dialogue. My trick was to imagine his voice-actor reading his lines.

For your book, could you pick a character from a movie or show that's very similar to yours? I don't consider it cheating to "hire" them to act in your scenes.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Hi there RSE
One thing you can look at is sentence length. Who speaks in long complete sentences and who has shorter more cliped replies?
Does anyone tend to leave the subjects out of their sentences or maybe just pro nouns? Who's more pessimistic" Do they use more negatives rather than positives? i.e. "I won't stay here." vs "I am leaving. "
You can also look at verb use. Some people may tend to use was, got and had a lot while others may use more specific verbs. You could look at shorter vs longer latinate words, like told vs explained.
Keep in mind that a little goes a long way, and it can be easy to over do. Character voice doesn't just come from the words they use but the intention behind them as well. Do your characters have core beliefs that colour everything they say?

Just a few ideas to start. I'm eager to see what others have to say on this as well.
These are all good advise, but especially the part about intention, which I think is key.
 

Wayne Mack

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One of the ideas that I got from Brandon Sanderson's lecture series was to give each character a key trait or interest that may not necessarily relate to the plot line -- something like being sports fan or an architecture student. Whenever the character is the PoV, his or her descriptions of the environment will be presented with the context of his or her specific trait. This may also bleed over into into the character's speech pattern. Whenever I switch PoV, I review the upcoming character's traits and try to incorporate that flavor within the first paragraph. Once I ground myself within that character's mindset, the rest seems to follow. As long as the PoV is established, I find the other characters only need a slight touch to separate them from the PoV.

Reference: https://www.youtube.com/user/WriteAboutDragons/videos , Lecture 4. Mouse over the titles to listen to them in order. The sort order on the page isn't too precise.
 

tinkerdan

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As an exercise I have taken a scene--such as a city--and written it from opposing views.

One POV loves cities and almost wears rose colored glasses as they describe and experience the city.

Another POV hates the city and sees all the crime and grime; poverty and decay; corruption and disease; the very affront to nature herself.

Then to carry it further and add a bit of nuance I try writing the first with out the rose color glasses and the second with less vitriol.

Breaking away from your personal views and trying it the other way can help in some cases to determine whose point of view you might need for a specific scene. Often when everyone begins to sound the same it is because they are all just a part of the writers own personal reflection on the page. Thinking outside our own personal box can be difficult. Getting it all balanced, so they don't show up on the page, can be golden.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Back in the olden days, when I was writing The Green Lion Trilogy, there was a scene where one of my two MCs was asked a question, which could have gotten him in trouble regardless of whether he answered it "Yes" or "No." He gave a rather slick (I thought at the time) response that evaded the trap. I snickered to myself as I wrote it.

But revising the scene much later it occurred to me that no matter how much I, personally, enjoyed that line, it was completely out of character for him to even think about evading the blame. He was the super-responsible sort who took too much on himself and who'd be more likely to blurt out something along the lines of "Everything that happened was all my fault!"

On the other hand, he wasn't at fault, and if he had been in trouble at that point it wouldn't have worked for what had to happen next in terms of the plot. So, as I recall, I had one of the other characters who had been present step in before he could speak, and exonerate him.

But it was an important learning experience for me, because I realized, perhaps for the first time, that far more important than writing clever dialogue it was my job to consider the personalities of all the characters and never put words in their mouths that didn't match their thought processes and motivations. After that, whenever I wrote some dialogue that I particularly enjoyed writing, asking myself the question, "But would they really say that? helped keep me honest.
 

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