Finding Another Voice

I realize that my characters all sound like me.  I try to make them different, really I do, I just can’t seem to get there.  I can manage a different voice for bit parts, but not for the main character.

I have tried listening into conversations of strangers to see how they speak, imitating friends and family and have a book called Talking the Talk (covers slang).  Yet, somehow when I read what I wrote, there I am again.

People say I am excellent at writing dialogue, sure it comes naturally, it’s exactly what I would say and that’s a problem.

 Any suggestions?

  • My characters generally remind me of someone I know. Not the way they look, or what they do, but the way they talk and behave. When I am creating dialog it seems to come naturally because of this.

  • Carolyn, i agree with you about using the revision stage. If I put too much focus on each individual character in a scene, I tend to lose the flow. Sometimes I will strictly focus on one character during the revision, then at a later revision, focus on a different character. This allows me to really get inside that characters mind, moods, mannerisms as they would relate to the situation at hand. 

    if there's one thing I've learned it''s rewrite, revise, rewrite! (and don't forget the occasional break!)

    Thanks Ladies for a provocative discussion.


  • I eavesdrop on people in cafés, listen to how they phrase things, etc. This has helped me when it comes to making sure each character's voice is different. :)
  • Thanks for all the advice.

    I had  an inspiration that I would like to share.  I changed the age of one of my characters from mid 40s to 22,  it didn't change the story in anyway.  By making her so young I had the opportunity to change her speech, giving her a voice no other character had.   That simple change was so helpful with my problem.

  • Think twice about introducing dialect. That can backfire, especially if you're not familiar with the manners of speech of a particular region. Careful, too, about letting someone else rewrite. Be absolutely clear what you want done and what the other person expects. Having your sister help isn't "cheating"; It's help with a difficult section, which you will likely revise and polish anyway. Just have her do one legal argument section to show you an alternative way to handle it. If you let her write all of them, then you're inching into collaboration territory and/or sisterly relations danger zone.


    I recommend reading some contemporary Southern writers, see how they handle it. I read a lot of regional work and can't think of any off the top of my head where the writer resorted to dialect except in minimal, targeted ways. The main body of the books was straightforward English, and character/place/tone was established through other techniques. If they used dialect, it was so smoothly done I never noticed!

  • Those are good ideas, thank you so much.

    A friend suggested that since it takes place in the south, some people should sound like southerners, which makes sense, but I don't "southerner" and I don't want to go overboard, or worse, get it wrong.

    I have thought of cheating.  Give my sister the legal argument sections, and let her rewrite the prosecutor's dialogue...but I realize can't trust her not to rewrite the prosecutor's position...she doesn't like to loose

  • I hear ya on this! I have exactly the same problem, and encounter it now and then in published books. It seems to stand out more when you have mixed character types, especially from different places or backgrounds. In stories where everyone comes from the same circle or area, they can reasonably be expected to speak similarly.


    The simple way to address it is just modify sentence length; also, to break up dialogue more with action connectors. Try reviewing your dialogue and replacing some words with their synonyms. Allow some characters to use multi-syllable words and others to use single-syllable words. Give somebody a tendency to "um" and "er" or say, "you know" a lot. Let one character be long-winded and another speak only the minimum necessary. And so forth.


    When you're writing draft, just run the dialogue as comes naturally, then comb later and tweak according to character when you're in the revision stage. Just be consistent with each character.