Unique Character Dialogue

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How to Create Unique Character Dialogue

When characters speak, it should be distinctive. Yet, when I write, if I’m not concentrating carefully, I tend to have all characters talk like–well, talk like me. Not good.

Separate files. One revision strategy that seems to help is to cut and paste a character’s dialogue into a separate file. Then read straight through that file and listen carefully for consistency, uniqueness, etc. Or compare two character’s dialogue files and see if they are too similar.

Study dialects. Another good idea is to study dialects. When I’m looking for a unique voice, I often go and study dialects from various parts of the U.S. Often the dialect descriptions get lost in the way each sound is made, which would only result in funny spellings for words. Instead, I’m looking for syntactic differences, or how sentences are structured.

An example would be the use of the negative positive in Boston English: “Let’s go see if we can’t get your car fixed.” Of course, you can add the extra strange spelling: “Yoah cah.” But I think the sentence structure goes a long way toward making the voice distinctive.

Or, this postcard from Dorset, England.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/chicagogeek/3202349160/

3 Comments
  • Liz
    September 11, 2007

    I’m going to try that = cut and paste dialogue into a separate file, for each character.

    I’m also going to work on adding some idiosyncratic :o) habits as tags in some of the dialogue.

    Thanks for the tips and for bringing up this topic.

  • Jamie
    November 26, 2011

    I love your suggestions! How do I find out about different syntactic differences, along with different dialects, online? Have you found any useful sites or links?

  • darkocean
    November 6, 2014

    I would warn that to much dialect from a character becomes annoying, and then grading as the story goes on as the reader has to try and future out what is being said. Isn’t that what jarring is? I’d say sprinkle dialect in when a point needs to be made.