The Nitty Gritty Practical Guide to Giving your Characters Unique Voice

by Katja L Kaine Jul 17, 2017, 0 Comments

Character Voice is as difficult to pin down as it is critical.

Plenty of writing advice resources talk about the importance of your main characters each having a unique voice, but how do you achieve that?

The main problem is that all of those characters are essentially coming from the same mind – yours – so you need to find ways to ensure your personal characteristics, speech patterns and nuances don’t all bleed into your characters.

10 Key Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Characters

Below are ten questions about your characters to help break you out of your own voice patterns, ensuring every sentence they say reflects their personality and nuances.

If you spend enough time creating individual voices for each character, a reader should be able to identify which character is speaking from any isolated sentence they say.

The Novel Factory has just launched a fully online version, which includes these character voice development questions as well as tons more useful features for novel writers. You can try it for free for thirty days here: The Novel Factory.

1. What is the character’s favoured vocabulary?

Does the character have a small or large vocabulary? Do they overuse certain words? Do they tend to use short, succinct words or long, overwrought ones? Do they use a lot of words relating to a particular sense, such as sight or sound? Do they use a lot of words relating to their job or hobby?

2. What are their speech patterns / quirks, habits?

Are their sentences long or short? Do they use a lot of questions, or imperative statements? Do they frequently start or end a sentence with a particular word, phrase, or tic, such as: ‘like’, ‘you know what I mean?’ or a giggle?

3. What is their educational level?

Their educational level will affect their speech. More education may mean a more advanced vocabulary or ‘proper’ language as opposed to a high volume of slang. Or less formal education could result in pomposity of speech to try to hide their class, likewise an upper class person may affect more slang to fit in with more ‘normal’ people.

4. What are their racial / cultural / regional influences?

While you’d want to be careful with this not to rely too heavily on flimsy stereotypes that at best might be weak and at worst might offend, where we are born and grow up greatly affects our speech and culture.

Regional influences can affect a character's vocabulary, word order, slang, accent, attitude and priorities.

5. What slang do they use?

Do they use a particular kind of slang or jargon? Do they do it to build rapport or to make others feel excluded? Is it related to their job, role, age, culture or something else?

6. Do they get to the point or ramble?

Some people waste no time in getting to the point, and use the most concise, unambiguous language possible. Others beat around the bush until you have no idea what they are trying to say. Wherever your character lands on this scale, consider why they behave like this. Is it deliberate or unconscious? Is it a defence mechanism based on childhood experience or current situation?

7. Are they assertive or passive?

Is the character naturally assertive or passive? Are they forceful, confrontational? Or do they shy away from conflict? This will come through in their choice of what to say, but also how they say it.

8. Are they proactive, taking charge? Or do they prefer to react and follow?

The character could land anywhere on the scale from being decisive and charismatic, expecting everyone to naturally fall in behind them, through sitting around waiting for someone to take charge, all the way to actively obstructing anyone who does try to get something done. Does their attitude manifest in a sensitive, accommodating way, or is it stubborn and unyielding?

9. Sense of humour

What sort of sense of humour does your character have? Do they laugh at other people’s misfortune? Or their own jokes? Do they titter delicately at highbrow wit, or do they slap their thigh and collapse uncontrollably at fart jokes? Do they mutter sarcastic comments just loud enough for those around them to hear, or do they enjoy making others laugh with self-deprecating humour?

10. Metaphor preferences

What topics are the theme of their metaphors? Do they use a lot of idioms about war, football or a particular sense? What is their profession, background or hobby? Can these be reflected in their metaphorical speech?

Take Aways

The Novel Factory has just launched a fully online version, which includes these character voice development questions as well as tons more useful features for novel writers. You can try it for free for thirty days here: The Novel Factory.

About the Author:

Katja L Kaine is the creator of the Novel Factory – writing software for novel writers . The Novel Factory keeps track of all aspects of your novel, from characters, to locations to settings to drafts. It includes lots of useful information and templates, including popular plot outlines (romance, horror, hero’s journey and more), character questionnaires, characterisation checklists and much, much more.

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