Top 14 Tips and Tools for Creating Unique Character Voices

Voice in fiction is crucial—but also elusive. First, writers must consider their own authorial voices, then the story’s specific narrative voice, and last but certainly not least character voices. In fact, if you’re writing fiction, the most important voices on the page technically aren’t yours, but your characters’. All of ’em. And they all need to be authentic, entertaining, and different from one another. They all need to be unique.

Creating unique character voices is one of the great challenges of writing fiction. We’re not simply talking about writing good dialogue here (although that plays a major role). We’re also not talking just about developing strong and interesting characters (although that’s a critical foundation). What we’re talking about is taking both your characters and your dialogue that extra mile to make their voices so distinctive and memorable audiences will recognize who is speaking even without dialogue tags or other references.

Last month, I put out a call, asking you all to tell me what topics you’d most like me to post about. (Thank you for all the enthusiastic responses and the inspiration!) Today, I’m writing the first post in response to your requests, this one from AngieElle, who noted:

I would love a post about distinctive character voices.

This is a topic dear to my heart, since creating unique character voices is one of my favorite parts of writing fiction. Sometimes discovering a character’s voice on the page is the only key you need in order for a story to just take off and start writing itself. Other times, finding a character’s voice can be trickier—and until you find it, nothing about the story seems to work.

Today, let’s take a look at the topic of unique character voices from a few different angles and finish up with five tools you can use in your own writing to help you find your characters’ voices.

9 Considerations When Designing Your Character Voices

Creating Character Arcs

Creating Character Arcs (Amazon affiliate link)

Vibrant character voices arise out of vibrant characters. If the voice isn’t working, then the problem may be the foundational issue of the characters themselves. It’s hard to write zippy dialogue for pancake characters. Therefore, gaining a better understanding of your characters is one of the best places to start in creating their voices. The fortunate flipside of this is that if you can come up with an engaging voice for a pancake character, you’re automatically more than halfway to fixing all of that character’s problems.

As you begin contemplating (or troubleshooting) your character voices, keep the following nine aspects in mind. All will influence how the characters speak—and what they speak about.

1. Personality

Often, when we think of voice, the first connotation is that of personality in its most general sense. You can approach personality in many ways, including via personality theory systems such as MBTI and the Enneagram (which we discussed earlier this month).

For starters, however, simply consider your characters’ most defining traits.

  • Are they extroverted or introverted?
  • Quiet or boisterous?
  • Idealistic or cynical?
  • Kind or cruel?

One question I always ask when interviewing my characters during their initial development is, “What is the first thing people notice about this character?” Voice will both influence and be influenced by the answer.

2. Stance

Next, you can consider what, in Enneagram terms, is called your character’s “stance.” This has to do with your character’s preferred directional attitude when dealing with the world. This will influence not just what your character says, but when she chooses to speak, and whom she is most likely to engage with.

Is your character:

1. Aggressive (with a forward emphasis, focusing on the future and moving toward conflict)?

2. Withdrawn (with a backward emphasis, focusing on the past and stepping back from conflict)?

3. Dependent (with a lateral emphasis, focusing on the present and reaching out to others for support in conflict)?

(For those interested in the Enneagram connection, the aggressive types are Three, Seven, and Eight; the withdrawn types are Four, Five, and Nine; and the dependent types are One, Two, and Six.)

3. Harmonic Style

Another useful Enneagram categorization is that of a character’s harmonic style. In their book The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson explain:

The Harmonic Groups tell us how we cope with conflict and difficulty: how we respond when we do not get what we want. … They reveal the fundamental way that our personality defends against loss and disappointment.

This is specifically useful to know in weighing what your characters most value in themselves and how they will try to communicate this through their dialogue.

Does your character respond most often with:

1. Competence (looking for logical and practical solutions and answers)?

2. Reactivity (pushing back proactively in the moment to make space before stopping to consider other options)?

3. Positivism (choosing to look at the bright side and putting a positive spin on things whenever possible)?

(For those interested in the Enneagram connection, the competent types are One, Three, and Five; the reactive types are Four, Six, and Eight; and the positive types are Two, Seven, and Nine.)

>>Click here to read “5 Ways to Use the Enneagram to Write Better Characters

4. Defensive Reflex

Dialogue in a story can be viewed as a sort of contest between characters, especially since much of it will be conflict driven. One character goes on the offense; the other defends; and back and forth they go. In designing character voices, it is particularly valuable to consider each character’s default defensive reflex. These reflexes will be interrelated with a character’s stance and harmonic group (above) but can also be more specific.

Does your character:

  • Blush and go silent?
  • Get mad and push back?
  • Respond calmly while boiling on the inside?
  • Flare up at first, then calm down and apologize?
  • Give the benefit of the doubt and hold space?
  • Judge immediately and feel offended?

5. Age

Other factors in creating your characters’ voices are more practical. How old is this character? A five-year-old will obviously have an entirely different vocabulary, cadence, and conversational style than will a high schooler or a retiree.

6. Education

By the same token, consider the character’s level of education. A professor or scientist will speak very differently from someone who dropped out of high school. Depending on the character’s self-consciousness around his level of education (whether very high or very low), this may also influence how he tries to speak.

For example, someone with several doctorate degrees might be arrogant in showing off his vocabulary or self-deprecating in trying not to rub his intelligence in others’ faces. Alternatively, someone with little education may try to cover it up by speaking more properly than her background suggests—to various effects.

7. Region

Where is your character from and what is his ethnic and geographic background? A character who was born in India but lives in New York City will present interesting layers within his communication style. A character’s regional history may also suggest to you interesting word choices. The slang in South Boston is not the same as in London, which is not the same as that in the dales of Scotland or the ranch country of Texas.

8. Dialect

Regional considerations will not always include dialect, but when a dialect is appropriate, you will be presented with both new challenges and new opportunities for your characters’ voices. On the one hand, you will need to portray the dialect accurately, both in respect to those who actually speak it and because readers will spot and reject inauthenticity. On the other hand, a colorful dialect done well can instantly elevate a character and her voice to a whole new level of interest and memorability.

9. Profession

Finally, consider your character’s job. Every profession, no matter how humble, offers its own unique way of speaking. Particular slang as well as specialized industry terms may creep into your character’s voice or even entirely permeate it, depending on his level of occupational immersion.

5 Solid Tools to Create Unique Character Voices

Once you have examined your characters from every angle and considered what about them offers opportunities to distinguish their voices from one another’s, you can level up by employing several useful tools. To be effective, all of these tools must be used deftly. To choose one particular tool and to use it in every dialogue exchange may well push the effect from “original and memorable” to “cartoonish and self-indulgent.”

All of these tools are meant to be used to achieve verisimilitude. They’re here to help you create characters who are larger-than-life but who sound real. The moment a character’s dialogue begins to sound repetitive or rehearsed, you’d do better to dial back on the originality and let them talk just like everybody else for a bit.

I’m going to use the characters in Stranger Things for examples, since I feel the show does a particularly good job creating unique character voices for every member of its cast.

1. Dialogue Tics

The easiest way to bring individuality to a character’s speech is to create a dialogue tic that is used only for that character. This could be almost anything.

  • It could be a favored word (or a word the character refuses to use).
  • It could be a character’s favored volume for speaking.

The character voice of Hopper, in Stranger Things, is defined by the fact that he can’t help but holler in almost every encounter, even when he’s trying to dial it down. (Stranger Things (2016-), Netflix.)

  • It could be how many words a character chooses to use or not use.

Your character could be a blabber who can’t stop talking or monosyllabic like Eleven in early episodes of Stranger Things. (Stranger Things (2016-), Netflix.)

2. Personalized Slang/Swears

Wayfarer 165 Weiland

Wayfarer (Amazon affiliate link)

A easy way to slip a little originality into each character’s voice is to exclusively assign a specific bit of slang or a favorite swear word or euphemism to each character. Not only will this mark each character in your audience’s minds, but it can also be an opportunity for characterization.

As a personal example, in my Regency-era gaslamp fantasy Wayfarer, I kept a list of which words each character used. My country-boy protagonist Will would constrain his outbursts to terms such as “ruddy” and “hang it,” while my eight-year-old Cockney pickpocket would let loose with all the historical slang available to her.

In Stranger Things, it’s interesting to note how the writers utilized swear words to influence character voices—purposefully giving more profanity to the child characters than the adults and more of them to Dustin’s bodacious character than to anyone else. (Stranger Things (2016-), Netflix.)

3. Metaphor Families

When discussing dialogue in his book Secrets of Story, Matt Bird recommends what he calls “metaphor families.”

The aspect of your characters’ lives that determines which metaphors, curses, and exclamations they use. The source of this is usually their job, their home region, or their psychological state. More rarely, it’s their career ambition or a hidden proclivity.

Even if all your characters come from the same place, family, or job, you can still craft each character’s dialogue around unique analogies that offer glimpses of the character’s perspective as well as bringing overall color to the dialogue.

A defining aspect of Stranger Things is its use of Dungeons & Dragons terminology as a metaphor for the mysterious happenings in Hawkins, Indiana. Although other characters pick up on some of this terminology as the story progresses, it is mostly confined to the character voices of the four boys who play the game. Even amongst the boys, some of the characters, such as Dustin, tend to have a deeper understanding of the D&D lore and therefore use the language more fluently. (Stranger Things (2016-), Netflix.)

4. Catchphrases

A catchphrase is a word or phrase repeated by a character throughout the story. This could be a simple exclamation, such as “Zounds!”, or it could be a more meaningful statement that grows in importance the more it is uttered (such as Captain America’s “I could do this all day”).

Catchphrases can be a double-edged sword. On the one side, they can help make a character’s voice memorable. On the other, they can quickly feel overdone. Used cautiously, however, they can lend definition to a character’s voice in a story.

In Stranger Things, Eleven’s limited vocabulary in the story’s beginning lends itself well to her repeating certain phrases—such as “Friends don’t lie”—which take on meanings unique to her character and context as the story expands. (Stranger Things (2016-), Netflix.)

5. Rhythms and Phrasings

Although the above tools and considerations are valuable in crafting character voices that pop off the page, they’re ultimately all window dressing. The truth of a character’s voice is found not just in the choice of individual words, but in the construction of the dialogue’s rhythm and phrasings.

Does your character:

  • Ramble in run-on sentences (like Anne of Green Gables)?
  • Speak in clipped, staccato fragments?
  • End statements decisively, challengingly, or open-endedly?

More than any other tool in your toolbox, this is the one that will allow you to create truly unique and vibrant character voices. Try to make the way every character speaks slightly from every other character. One character may be posh and refined, using perfect grammar. Another may be nearly incomprehensible with dropped consonants and obscure slang. Everything about the character—from background to emotionality—will determine how the voice comes across on the page.

Stranger Things employs different cadences and styles for all of its character voices, as evidenced by the differences in the four boys. Dustin tends to ramble with enthused intelligence, Mike goes off on emotional rants, and Will holds back, while Lucas, as the voice of reason (and sometimes cynicism), always speaks forcefully, is always hyper-practical, and always gets to the point. (Stranger Things (2016-), Netflix.)


Apart from more general concerns of crafting the shape of your story through plot, arguably nothing affects your audience’s perception of your story more than voice. This applies, of course, to the narrative voice—but the narrative voice will, in turn, be impacted by the POV characters’ dialogue voices as well. The more distinctive, appropriate, and authentic each character’s voice is, the more these descriptors will apply to your story as a whole.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How would you describe the character voices in your work-in-progress? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast or Amazon Music).


Love Helping Writers Become Authors? You can now become a patron. (Huge thanks to those of you who are already part of my Patreon family!)

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I try to give my characters clear voices. For example, in my Wolves of Vimar series, Randa is an aristocratic young lady who speaks correctly.
    Thadora is a young girl from the poor part of the city and speaks with dropped aiches and incorrect grammar, and swears a lot. Then she is adopted into the upper class and has trouble learning to speak ‘properly’.
    Davrael is a foreigner. He’s very quiet. And has an accent when he speaks.
    Fero is also a foreigner. He’s been Inthe land of Grosmer for a long time and speaks well, but with few contractions.
    Basalt, a dwarf, says ‘Hmph’ a lot.
    Asphodel is sensible and a peacemaker. She’s quietly spoken.
    Carthinal, the leader of the group, has a fiery temper, but quickly calms.
    I hope IVe managed to have this come over in dialogue.

  2. This was a very insightful post. However, when I read about catchphrases, my mind kept going to Shaggy from “Scooby Doo” when he always says “Zoinks!” It’s my weird mind.

  3. Another excellent article — and good dialog discussion is so rare that, “The first rule about how people talk, we do not talk about how people talk.” The Stranger Things references especially work to bring more of them to life.

    One of my favorite simple methods is, who says how much? Which character can you expect to give simple statements and be done, or pass up a chance to speak at all, and who runs their mouth more?

    And who *starts* a conversation, and who lets others go first or doesn’t speak at all until a certain point comes up — a subject that matters to them, an emotional breaking point, or just hating to see the others arguing?

    Does someone stop talking when they reach a basic agreement, or sooner if people pressure him or when his friend can take over? Does he need to keep going until he’s gotten things off his chest, or does he have a real need to convince people to see things his way? If he does, is he someone that usually succeeds — or how does he take it if he can’t?

    It’s one of the biggest ways to define someone’s voice: weigh it against the other voices there.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good points. I’ve always loved strong and silent characters, but perhaps ironically the ones who say the fewest words are sometimes the hardest ones to write dialogue for. So much depends on the subtext.

  4. Miriam Harmon says

    I’m sorry, but I strongly disagree with the idea of using profanity in fiction. As a Christian, May I ask why are you encouraging it? On the practical side, more profanity is only going to get you negative comments and a smaller audience. Nobody’s going to applaud you for swearing in your story, but they will condemn you for it. So why? Just why? It’s wrong anyway and a sign of weak verbal skills in both the character and the author. KM, I admire you, but please can you not talk about profanity like it’s a good thing? Great post otherwise.

    • The question is how true you want the story and characters to be. If a character is five years old and using profanity, that’s a clue to the type of parent they have: one who has no care for what they say around a child. If you’re writing a story about such a child with such a parent, the profanity is “true” to the character. Even if you don’t write out the profanity, you still mention the child is saying it.

      Obviously, if you’re going with the no profanity whatsoever rule you’re probably not writing about adolescents, gangs, cops, soldiers in the heat of battle, or people dropping sledge hammers on their feet. And that’s fine. But if you *are* writing about those people it makes no sense to not reflect — however judiciously — the way they truly speak.

      I was the kid who didn’t swear when all the other kids began to in the sixth grade, and my classmates wanted to know why. I was out of step with the norm. If I’m reading about a group of modern sixth graders, it wouldn’t be plausible to me if none of them use profanity when they’re trying to be edgy, or they’re angry. Adolescents test boundaries, including using “forbidden, grown-up” words. Again, the author might simply write, “Jack swore, Jack cussed,” and so on.

      This applies even for the educated. I mention the Inklings in my post below. They were all scholarly men, Oxford dons and students. Tolkien and another Inkling, Hugo Dyson, famously converted C.S. Lewis to Christianity while hanging out one night. And yet there’s the legendary anecdote about Dyson getting salty when Tolkien was reading from The Lord of the Rings as he was still writing it: “Not another effing elf!”

      If the absence of profanity rings true, I agree you should skip it. Poirot wouldn’t drop f-bombs. If the absence of profanity rings false, a writer must figure out a way to handle it. Even if they resort to the Battlestar Galactica Reboot maneuver and make up a swear word. Because people getting shot at tend to cuss.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Although I have never used what would be considered profanity in my own writings, I have zero problem with cursing. Words only have the power we give them, and I don’t see anything innately evil in the arbitrary distinctions of “acceptable” and “unacceptable” that are given certain words by certain societies.

      As Jamie noted, understanding both your characters and your audience is key. If you’re writing to a primarily Christian market, then cursing won’t be accepted. Understanding this is important for marketing the book.

      That said, writers can certainly become dependent on swears, just as we do in our own speaking, to the point of laziness. Like any word we use, it should be chosen because it will have the most pertinent effect the author is trying to create. Often, if you take a swear out of a sentence, you’ll find you didn’t really it need it. In other instances, a little extra creativity or characterization will take care of the problem. As discussed in the post, creating a unique “metaphor family” for each character gives you some leeway and guidance for determining each character’s “emphatic language.”

      Studying the dialogue in films from the Golden Age of Hollywood, during which time the Hays Code censored all profanity, can be a great exercise in understanding how to strengthen dialogue in general. You’ll find that the restrictions rarely, if ever, dampened the quality of either the characters or the dialogue. However, there are always those obvious moments where it’s clear the author has weakened the dialogue by going out of their way to avoid a swear word.

      Ultimately, this is a personal choice for every author.

      • Rebecca Rhoads says

        This is a struggle in my writing. I try to keep it clean enough I wouldn’t be embarrassed to have my pastor read my work while finding a voice that is natural to my characters. Much of classic lit didn’t need excessive (if any) cursing to tell a story. Even Christians are going to let a word slip when under duress, however, and to write a novel where no one ever says a bad word is artificial and not relatable. This has been my main issue with much of Christian lit – cardboard characters and indistinguishable voices that are simply unrealistic.

        • Victoria Leo says

          Yeah, Rebecca, it’s not really fiction, it’s a sermon in book form, an indoctrination in dogma instead of living, breathing people. I had to stop reading….

    • Colleen Janik says

      Thank you for some powerful tips for how to teach my characters to talk. I needed that.

    • I see everyone has their own opinions on this, but I agree with Miriam. Writers don’t need to use swear words to make their characters more realistic, because not everybody swears (even if they’re in pain). I never have. It all depends on the kind of sins we personally struggle with.

      A book where nobody swears or uses nice substitutes can still be written wonderfully without seeming fake. In fact, Steven James has said that using swear words makes a character seem uncontrolled, which can cause readers to lose respect for them. It’s not about what our pastors or mothers or anybody thinks when they read our work- it’s about what Jesus thinks. Does He want the pen He guides to write what we just did? We write only for Him.

  5. Eric Troyer says

    Thanks Katie. Good post. Gives me a lot to mull over.

  6. I’ve been thinking about this issue as I’ve been doing some edits.

    The low-hanging fruit is when characters are of different classes, generations, and regional origins. Urbane gentry vs. rough-and-ready hillbilly vs. foreigner who peppers their speech with foreign terms are fairly easy to distinguish.

    But the true test is what happens if *all* the characters have a similar makeup. If you have a group of like-minded people from similar backgrounds such as the Inklings or the kids in Stranger Things, that’s where it gets tricky. Giving each of those characters individual voices in that situation is the “tell” for how well a writer understands those characters. That’s where their temperaments must come into play, so this post is timely and thought-provoking.

    Would gestures be included in this toolbox? Some characters speak volumes simply by raising an eyebrow.

    “I will have your silence,” one character may demand, but another requests, “Please be quiet,” and another snaps, “STFU.” Those are the usual variations where voice is concerned. But another type of character might omit words and level a withering stare, and another might jauntily flip the bird.

    The silent ones are not talking but they are communicating, so I tentatively put their actions under the heading of “voice.” Just not sure if their actions count for that purpose.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I have often thought that one of the disadvantages of written fiction versus visual fiction is that we aren’t able to convey a character’s expressions in the same way. For me, some of the most expressive characters are those, like Jason Bourne, who say almost nothing, but who convey so much through the actor’s facial expressions. We can do this in written fiction as well, but it is much harder, since we will often have to resort to some sort of “telling” to get across the exact intent of the expression.

  7. Great article. Provocative, substantial, useful. Thanks for sharing it.

  8. Now I know you MUST BE PSYCHIC! I started desperately searching for blog posts/podcasts/videos on voice in fiction at 10:30 am. At 11am, I got an email about YOUR AMAZINGLY HELPFUL blog/podcast that exactly matched what I was looking for….Such insightful examples!

    I’m also interested in the way authors convey voice as they structure sentences and paragraphs, minimal vs maximal, etc. Thanks so much for this perfect answer to my plaintive call for help! – E R

  9. ‘Voice’ is different things to different people and cultures. As an older person, I have witnessed generational changes, new words appear almost weekly. Words that once explained a character, have taken on new meanings. Example: ‘wicked’ now means good among the new generation (here in the UK). Obviously, what you have written makes sense, as a writer, you have recognise the time and place.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Very true. For instance, voice can become very complex when you’re writing in a historical period.

  10. In my last WIP, I loved creating the characters’ voices. My MC was deceptive and stuck-up, so he was always trying to sound smart, with long sentences and big words. He also had a catchphrase – “He actually has a point” – that was part of him learning to recognize when his friends had good things to say.
    His sidekick was more challenging as the strong and silent but perceptive type. I tried to limit his sentences to five words, but what I found is that when I had to break the rule, sentence structure made much more of a difference than sentence length. I could give the sidekick an eight-word sentence including a dependent clause, and he sounded like the MC. Or I could give him a straightforward ten-word sentence, and he sounded like himself. The short-sentence rule also really forced me to put a lot of content in his sentences, which I thought both emphasized his perceptiveness and contrasted him with the MC: he got straight to the point while the sneaky MC danced around the truth.

  11. Rosemary Brandis says

    Thanks for this timely reminder. I have one character that I was fleshing out. I had given him a wound and a personality but not much else in the way of a distinctive voice. A few unique phrases and dialogue tics should do the trick.

  12. Grace Clay says

    Character voice is such a fun topic. In one of your posts on humor (sorry, I don’t remember which one) you mentioned different humor styles for different characters. I have a character who is cold and closed off, but has a very snarky sense of humor that sets her apart.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, great point. There are so many different styles of humor, and assigning a different style to each character can be an excellent trick for accentuating individual voices.

  13. Edward Denecke says

    Katie, Though you never tooted your own horn here, Your “Outlining Your Novel Workbook” software is a fabulous tool to use for creating characters with distinct personalities and unique character voices. It also includes concentrations on such glaring personality traits as typical expressions and idiosyncrasies. One whole section of it is focused specifically on personality. What I like about it is that one can easily switch from character to character and contrast and compare their similarities and differences. This post was extremely well timed for me. I am just about ready to populate my WIP with the characters I have created for it. Now, thanks to your excellent insights, it will be easier to give each character a unique character voice. Thanks for making the task that much more achievable!!

  14. Another great and informative post. Thanks.

  15. David Benoit says

    Thank you Katie for all of your tips and information on writing. Thanks to your insights on Enneagrams and MBTI types I am currently mining a lot of potential characters by connecting the two. You may even find them useful in future posts as well. Here are the links:
    **Myers Briggs MBTI and Enneagrams- Correlations and Comparisons

    **27 Enneagram TriTypes – Tritype® | System (not to be confused with the 27 Enneagram instinctual subtypes)

  16. I have two characters who use a slight form of dialect, both use ‘I as’ instead of I have and the main character is trying to social climb in a way because she has started her own business and thinks it is necessary to change her accent. I have written a short story whereby I played around with strong dialect and although it sounds authentic it is very difficult to read – it has to go.
    I bought The Wisom of the Ennergarm book by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson – it is well written and easy to follow – though there is a hell of a lot to take in.
    Incidentally you don’t get Dales in Scotland you get Glens – Dales are mostly reserved for Yorkshire – never mind it was quite amusing to read Scottish dales 🙂
    One last point I cannot thank you enough for your posts, technical know-how and kindness in making this available for free. Your generosity astounds me.

    • ‘Wisdom of the Ennergram’ oops typo – and sorry for the rambling sentences!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Very glad you’re enjoying all the posts! For what it’s worth, I actually did google “dales” before using it in relation to Scotland. According to Wikipedia, the word is “used most frequently in the Lowlands of Scotland and in the North of England.” So I figured I was safe! :p

  17. ‘Wisdom of the Enneargram’ This is why I have to edit a million times 🙁

  18. lcgconnolly says

    Very interesting post and lots of useful insights. A character’s voice and dialogue is certainly one that really makes them stand out, and one of my favorite parts of reading good writing! A technique I’ve heard used by Hemingway was to swap the characters in a head-to-head dialogue, so that ‘Person A’ suddenly became B and vice-versa. Not sure if anyone here has ever tried that approach? I was reflecting on that recently and curious as to what other approaches writers use on fleshing out dialogue and developing characters (would love feedback here on my site 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hemingway didn’t always use attributions in back-and-forth dialogue. It could get confusing fast!

  19. Victoria Leo says

    Oh My God! Did I need this. Lots of characters and having them be unique – the aliens as well as the Humans – is work. It felt OK to have people in similar positions have a similar voice-vibe because they think about the world the same way, even the alien Admiral (in translation) and the Human one made a point that I thought helped the theme. But still…. different vocab, cadence, slang for different people based on family, planet, etc. Different cadence for the protag (military, leap into action type) vs. her sister who leans toward compassion. I could go on and on, LOL.

    This article is golden! I have two final novels in the series that I can make better with these ideas.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This just one of many reasons why writing is such a complex art form. But voices are a ton of fun!

  20. Very thought provoking and helpful Katie, thanks. One thing I’m using is one character having a special nickname for another character that nobody else uses. Nicknames or variations of names were used effectively by John Green in The Fault in Our Stars where the protagonist Hazel was called Hazel Grace by the other main character Augustus who in turn liked to be known as Augustus when he adopted a confident persona but was Gus to his family and when he was vulnerable eg when he was ill.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I love nicknames. They can be overdone sometimes, but when done well, I agree, they are great characterization tools.

  21. Lew Kaye-Skinner says

    Re a specific catchphrase in the post: It’s important to know whether a character pronounces “Zounds” to rhyme with “rounds” or “wounds.” The word is a shortened form of “God’s wounds,” the wounds Jesus suffered in the last hours of his earthly life. Some Christians hold those wounds to be particularly important for salvation, so they might be offended or put off by the wrong rhyme (assuming, of course, that they know this particular subtlety of pronunciation).
    My twisty little mind imagines now a snippet in which a self-righteous character for pronouncing “Zounds” to rhyme with “wounds.” Hmm. I just might have to create a story to use that snippet.

  22. So, one thing I drifted into while writing my 300,000 OC anime fanfic (yeah, I know) is that the supporting characters all have a different way of addressing the main character, which expresses their various personalities.
    • Noah, the main character, is compelled by circumstance to join the giant robot military, at a base jointly operated by the US and the UN. He is technically a warrant officer, a rank that doesn’t come with a title, and he instead should be addressed as “Mr. Wilson”. However:
    • Don, the ranking US officer, affects a sort of “cool professor” vibe. Since Noah’s putative assignment is to fix the software, first on the giant robot simulators and later on the giant robots themselves, Don immediately assigns him the nickname “Tech Support”, and continues calling him that even after Noah becomes an accomplished surface pilot.
    • Kimmy, Noah’s commanding officer from the UN, insists on an informal vibe among her charges, and typically refers to Noah by his first name. This also lets her play a somewhat maternal role during hard times. The one time she addresses Noah formally as “Warrant Officer Wilson”, he knows he’s in trouble.
    • Adrienne is an ace pilot from alien-conquered France, who’s never seen the outside of a refugee camp or a military base. Not used to working without military titles, she calls Noah “adjudant”, the French term for warrant officer. This is also a small act of defiance for her, as the xenophobic US government has outlawed the use of foreign languages in public, though Don and Kimmy look the other way. After Noah quits the military, she calls him “Mr. Wilson”, and when he says he misses being called “adjudant”, she scolds him for claiming privilege to a title he no longer deserves.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.