I’m sure some wise person somewhere at sometime said something to the effect of, “When authors create characters, they are in fact merely articulating pieces of themselves.” The fact is, we write what we know, and, if we’ve been doing things right, we tend to know ourselves pretty well; in this way, at least some aspects of each of our characters end up mirroring our own.
That acknowledged, I want to learn to make my characters speak with extremely distinct voices. I just finished writing a book featuring a young, well-educated White woman and a mixed-raced, ex-Army vet. They have distinct personalities and have lived enormously different lives; as such, I don’t want them to sound anything like the other. I found this my single biggest challenge when penning the book. I ended up differentiating them in large and obvious ways: Katana, my shero, refuses to swear and, as a college student, has a pretty expansive vocabulary, while Reed, my hero, swears a lot more and uses some slang, as I figured an ex-military man would tend to do. I also kept a certain television character in mind when writing Reed’s lines, which ended up being hugely helpful (and, given that the character is portrayed by Shemar Moore, also kind of, ahem, inspirational).
Did I succeed in making these two characters, who have very different pasts but are also mutually kind, generous, and lonely people, speak in ways unique to them? I hope so. I can’t pretend I have a secret recipe for working this magic and am, in fact, curious to hear if others have ideas on how to use dialogue to illustrate the unique personalities of their characters.
I love making my characters walk, breathe, and talk. The challenge is making their walks move differently, their breaths sigh distinctly, and their words paint unique pictures of themselves as they have been, are now, and will be.