Creating a character’s voice is different from finding your own personal voice, which we’ll discuss in another blog. Instead, it’s the unique way each character has of speaking that is special to them and gives them depth and life within your story.
I’m sure you’ve noticed as you go through the day that everyone you talk to has their own flavor, their own way of stringing words together. Have you ever read an e-mail from a good friend and said to yourself, “That sounds just like her!” We are all different from each other as human beings and part of expressing that individuality is how we communicate. Your characters are people too, aren’t they? They need that opportunity as well.
If all your characters “sounded” the same, your book would be flat and dull. By injecting a bit of life into their words, your characters can become three-dimensional and real to the reader.
It could be something as simple as the way Aunt Betty would rather die than use a contraction. “I will go to the store,” she says, pulling on her crisp white gloves. “I will buy a cantaloupe.” No “I’ll” for her – she considers it the worst mark of poor breeding.
Grandpa Hank (on the other side of the family) prefers to express himself outlandishly. No common clichés for him! “I’m more tickled than a nostril in a featherbed factory,” he pronounces upon hearing good news.
Gertie has a nervous habit of giggling. Annie ends every question with, “Okay?” Bobby likes to say, “Holy smokes!”
The same can be said for mannerisms. Perhaps Cindy twirls her hair on her finger or Joey snorts when he laughs.
I realize these examples are a little out there, but I’m making the point very obvious so you can then translate it into the more subtle. Search for a tone for each of your characters. Your younger characters would use more simple language than an adult. A professor would use longer words than a character who didn’t graduate from high school. (This is not to say that you should make your character sound like a backwoods hick because they didn’t have the same opportunity for education; this is just to say that you can help show a character’s background by the way they talk.) Paul West wrote a great blog on this topic at (link here)
As you do this, keep in mind that it can easily be overdone. If Grandpa Hank burst in on every conversation with a “The store was more crowded than a Greyhound bus full of turkeys the day before Thanksgiving” or “It’s hotter than the backside of a pig cozying up to a fire on a spit,” he could easily overtake the whole book. If Gertie giggles on every single page, forget the dead body under the stairs – before long, it will be Gertie who sees her demise.
In summary, choose your characteristics wisely. Insert them judiciously. Sprinkle them in as needed to establish the tone of the conversation. Remember – Gertie giggles, not Grandpa Hank. If he starts to giggle, you confuse the reader because they’ve got him pigeon-holed and they know what he’s supposed to be doing. Oh, and if Grandpa’s giggling, you might want to check the expiration date on the apple juice. He’s got more hiccups than the frog that swallowed a bouncing basketball at the 4th of July picnic.