PEOPLE-WATCHING HELPS WITH DIALOGUE
So many times it’s hard to get the voice of the character you’re creating. You may have her backstory memorized. You may have her eye color pegged, and you even know what kind of orange juice she likes (not like there’s much difference in brands. Some may argue.) But getting her voice is that chore of chores that doesn’t seem possible to complete.
What’s the solution? People-watch. Listen to the people around you, and soon you will hear the variations of voices. Listen to their pauses, and the words that don’t matter to them as they yawn through a particular part of their sentence. Listen to their fluctuations. Hear people’s tones that interest you, and concentrate on the ones that annoy you. And yes, there are some annoying tones out there. Like the whining tone which I hate. But, your characters will have a voice if you give them one. And get this, you may never hear it audibly. But hearing her voice in your head will help to frame her dialogue more effectively.
Here’s an example.
“Go two miles down the road, and you’ll see it.”
That’s a line without a voice. And it works, but it’s missing something. It’s missing the voice and the tone of the person who’s saying it. So here, we go. More examples.
“Go two miles down the road, and you’ll see it,” she said in a raspy voice, and her breath smelled like stale cigarettes.
Now we’ve added a disgusting factor to it. We can actually hear a scatchy tone.
“Go two miles down the road, and you’ll see it,” she said, but her words were almost too soft to hear.
“Go two miles down the road, and you’ll see it,” he said with an attitude.
“Go two miles down the road, and you’ll see it.” Her English accent was distracting to him.
“Go two miles down the road, and you’ll see it,” he said, but he sounded uncertain, and I wasn’t willing to trust him.
See it? Each voice is different, and depending on what you want to be down the road, that should dictate that particular character’s voice. Now if it’s your main character.
Thanks for stopping by. I hope that you’ll be back next week!
Writing for children as I do, finding their voice can be a challenge (ages 8 – 12). When I get stuck, I typically go to the park or hang around outside a sports venue to listen into kid’s conversations, it gives me plenty of ideas how to incorporate their way of expressing things and how they look at the world. It’s easy, cause I’m a middle-aged female – a man hanging around kids would obviously alarm kids and parents. Travelling by bus or train is also good for listening into people’s conversations without them knowing…one can pick up the funniest accents, storylines and quirky turn of phrases that way.
So true, Maria. I was actually laughing as I was reading your comment because even before you said it, I was thinking of how creepy it would be for a guy to sit in a park and “kid-watch” LOL. But yeah riding on trains or listening to conversations at coffee shops is great.
omg that is an awesome pic
Very interesting. I tend to hear my characters’ accents and distinct manners of speaking after a while perhaps because I’m musically trained.
I think that’s very true. I’m sure you have an advantage being that you have the musical ear too.
Very true, people-watching gives me a lot of great ideas – dialogue included. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on adding voice through phonetics and punctuation as well.
Thanks CTSingleton. As far as the phonetics / punctuation voice. I think that it works well if it’s not overdone. Sometimes the p/p takes away from the actual words, so you have to be careful, but if done carefully, it’s brilliant. It adds flare to your character. Also be selective about how many characters are defined by their p/p because if all of the characters have the same intonations, then it’s probably better to give them normal speech — since the speech is normal to them anyway. Just some thoughts. But interesting question. I think I’ll do a thread about that soon.
This is precisely why I plan to do some writing in coffee houses this week while the weather is nice.
Such a good idea. It really helps me, that’s for sure.
Great advice, listening to the people around you. Several teachers and professors that I have been taught by have made this exact same point. It breathes life into your characters and helps color them with a unique brush.
Sfbell09. That’s good to hear. And I agree. It helps to make you pause and rethink a line or two whenever the dialogue is getting mundane because you are forced to ask: would this character really say that?