I’m sure some wise person somewhere at some time 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.
My latest novel, as yet untitled, includes a cynical, biracial security guard with the obligatory shadowed past as well as a shiningly — almost supernaturally, cough, cough — optimistic and compassionate White woman. These two characters have distinct personalities and have lived enormously different lives; as such, I don’t want them to sound anything like the other. I am finding this my single biggest challenge while penning them into being. Frankly, I worry that I’m being a bit ham-handed in trying to help them interact very differently with the world and one another. For example, Marin, my shero, speaks earnestly and with exclamation points at the end of most sentences, while Jack, her love interest, uses wry humor to frame, well, just about everything.
Am I succeeding in making these two characters, who have very different pasts but are also mutually kind 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, verbiage, and maybe even sentence and scene structure 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.