Capturing voice

We all have our own distinctive ways of speaking—from our accents to the things we choose to talk about. The way we talk in real life, our personal voice, is kind of thumb print for who we are.

Writers sometimes like to capture a distinctive character voice through dialogue.

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“Seriously, Mango, Hailey Joanne is a major coolsicle once you get to know her. She helped me pick out this bedazzled leopard-print phone case, which looks sooooo fabulous next to her bedazzled zebra-striped case.”

How well do you feel like you know this character? The voice tells you a lot.

What gives this snippet that voice? It’s a combination of word choice and expanded detail. 

Here’s the same snippet rewritten with simpler word choice and no expanded details.

“Hailey is good once you get to know her. She helped me choose this phone case, which looks great next to her case.”

Same info, not so fun!

Here are some examples that expand on the dialogue to give you a sense of the characters.

  • For instance, does Gobgap sound like a kid talking big to some lions?
  • Does the man in the store sound like a semi-creepy old British guy?

What in the expansions makes them sound that way?

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"And the third thing, that clever Gobgap knows, is what lions hate."

The lions hesitated.

"Lions hate..." I pulled the firecracker from my bag of many things, lit it on the torch and threw it at their feet. "Loud noises."

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The old man gave me an appraising look as I examined the scarf.

“For a lovely lass such as yourself,” he croaked, “I’ll do it for a fiver. Aint gonna get a better deal than that round these parts.”

Write your own variation of a character with a distinctive voice, and try to capture it. (One way to start is to write the simplest version of the dialogue you can think of, then go back and expand on it in a way you think sounds right for the character.)