Developing a voice: add colour and realism to character voices

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How many books or stories have you read where the conversations become stultified because the author feels a need to constantly remind the reader just who is speaking? It slows down the action and can be downright irritating.

It is so much easier to preform your characters. Dress them with a style of speech and vocabulary; introduce mannerisms, background and even favourite sayings. Then the need to constantly introduce the respondent’s name is dramatically reduced and the conversation lines will flow; they will be so much smoother. Set yourself the task of enabling your characters. Give them recognisable attitudes and speech patterns. Then when dialogue develops it will progress naturally. You would never use a friend’s name every second sentence when you are speaking to him would you?

For example:

“Hello John how are you?”
“I am fine Fred, this is Daisy my wife Freda’s sister.”
“Hello Daisy, why are you with John today?”
“Well Fred, Freda wasn’t feeling too well and asked me to accompany John to the laundry.”

How soon are you going to get tired of reading that writing style?

It is so much better to flesh out your characters beforehand so that you, as the author, have a much better understanding of how they would speak and what mannerisms they would display.

For example:

“How are you today?” The measured tones of Fred’s police trained voice unnerved John so easily they might as well have included the words, ‘anything you say will be taken down and could be used as evidence.’
They didn’t but still the panic rose as he searched for words of innocence. “Fine, I’m fine. This is my sister in law, Daisy; we’re off to the laundry.”
“Why are you with John today? Freda not well?”
Daisy’s pink cheeks glowed and that little mouth pursed as if telling some untruth twitched words into being.
“My sister wasn’t feeling great and asked me to lend a hand.”

You see how we have basically said the same things in the two examples but the second example brought so much more to the colour of the characters. We are more readily able to see them and understand their motives. See also how the story is being moved along.
The author has adopted a position, a voice to tell the story from authority. He is Story Telling. He is not drab conversation relating.
Far too often written dialogue assumes that people hear every word of what is said. They don’t, not in real life conversations. Sometimes people’s minds just drift away onto a completely different subject when speaking to a known friend. Have you noticed that? They can’t wait to say something that is important only to them. They want to talk about themselves unless they are hiding something, in which case they either say as little as possible or conversely, but not too often, they just can’t stop talking and trip themselves up when faced with a good police examiner.

Then there is the ‘I am not going to listen to a word that you say’ person. The one that interrupts unnecessarily, makes obtuse statements, fidgets with their finger nails or displays some giveaway trait. It is these personal habits with which you have dressed your characters that create the frictions between characters and add colour and realism to the voices of your characters.

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