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How do you make different characters' dialogue sound different from one another?
Lucy Silag - Book Country Director
Posted: Thursday, April 23, 2015 4:09 PM
Joined: 6/7/2013
Posts: 1356

Any tips, tricks, reminders that you've come across to help you make each of your character's have distinctive dialogue? How do you keep them from sounding the same?
Amber Wolfe
Posted: Thursday, April 23, 2015 6:18 PM

Ooh, Lucy. That's a tough question. Hmm, let's see . . .


For one, in Destiny's Bond, my main characters each have distinct personalities, and I find this helps when coming up with the dialogue they'll speak. Plus--and this may just apply to me--I can hear my characters voices in my head when I'm writing out their dialogue. That makes it pretty easy to gauge what they'll say and how they'll react.


An example:


Destiny has been molded by hardship. She likes to believe she has a callous outlook on life and can turn her back on souls in anguish. However, though she doesn't realize it, she has a soft spot for those in need and more often than not does what she can to ease them. She doesn't talk much, except when necessary. When she does choose to open her mouth, her dialogue has more of a 'stoic, unyielding' feel to it. So does her internal monologue and the way a scene in her POV progresses.


Like in this scene, where Arabella is wondering why she chose to save a fox from a human trap:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Inclined against the chair's back, she said, "Do not hope, Healer. I aided the fennec for no other reason than I could."


That answer did as expected; dimmed the optimistic spark and extinguished the positive flares in Arabella's aura. "You mean, you didn't feel any compassion for it?"


"No, I did not. Should I have decided, I could have left the beast there without regret."


And it was true. Though her predator had been frothed with fury at the fennec's predicament, she'd experienced not the slightest of sympathy. Forsaking the creature wouldn't have suffused her with any sorrow. Which was why she thanked the Celestials for gifting her with the sense of right and wrong. Fortunately, the sadistic mortals at the UnderLair hadn't succeeded in stripping her of her conscience, just her emotions.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Later in the book, Destiny's POV changes a little. I can't say why because I don't want to spoil anything, other than her attitude alters in later chapters. So the descriptions come across different now, I've found.


Here's some dialogue between Arashi and Nixie--developing Arashi's personality has been a challenge and an inspiration. When writing in his POV, I find myself writing with a more 'modern' feel, if that makes sense. Plus, with Nixie the pixie's childlike wonder and her own unique brand of dialogue backing it up, this scene was fun to craft:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"Araaaaaashi." Nixie's call blared over the forest, a reedy echo that spiked his blood pressure and grated on his sensitive ears as nothing else could.


His wolf hmphed. "Speak of the devil."


Before he could form a retort, Nixie skidded to a fluttery halt before his gaze, faster than a blink, dragonfly wings beating rapidly. Cheeks flushed red as apples, her fuchsia orbs twinkled with excitement.


"Arashi, y'gotta see it," she said, panting slightly, palms planted on her knees, out of breath. "Y'gotta see it."


What in Blazes? "See what?"


Nixie aimed a forefinger at the forest. "In there. They found it in there."






Arashi's lips twisted in a scowl as frustration fizzled. Okay, now he was annoyed. He'd admit it. "Who is 'them'?"


Confusion played on the imp's teeny visage. "Huh? Who?"


"Yes, who. Who is 'them'?" And to think he'd actually been worrying about her a minute ago.


"Oh." A blink, and a cheery, toothy smile. "The wolves. They found it."


"What is 'it'?" The words were out before his mind could catch up.


"Damn you, Arashi," his beast snarled.


"It?" More blinking.


He exhaled long and pinched the bridge of his nose with a thumb and forefinger. Patience. Had to have patience. "Yes, it."


"A squirrel."


That gave him a pause. He slowly lowered his arm. "A what?"


"A squirrel." Nixie looked at him like she thought he might be a bit slow. "It's a squirrel. The wolves caught it."


"You're telling me you're all worked up because my pack caught a squirrel?" he asked, while scanning the area to make certain all was the same. No purple clouds. No talking cottages or huts. No fluffy, sharp-toothed creatures gnawing on air.


So he wasn't in a nightmare . . . or was he?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
So, I find that having characters with distinctly different personalities makes it easier to write out their dialogue. Both Destiny and Arashi are very different--Destiny is stoic, Arashi has a more easygoing, laid-back attitude. Those differences give me an edge when either are talking.


That's my tip: different personalities make for unique dialogue, both internal and external. At least in my case.



Mimi Speike
Posted: Thursday, April 23, 2015 8:46 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

Amber, you have a solid grasp of characterization and dialogue. I know it's not your kind of fantasy, but I would appreciate it if, when I post my new version in another week of so, you would look at it, especially at how the characters are modeled through their speech. You don't need to read the whole thing, just a sample. My chapters are very short. I will look it over and suggest, give me an opinion of dialogue in chapters seven and eight, for instance. The title of the new version will be: Sly - Novella.


I will take another look at your revised book also. Thanks.


--edited by Mimi Speike on 4/23/2015, 8:50 PM--

Amber Wolfe
Posted: Thursday, April 23, 2015 10:37 PM

No problem, Mimi. I'll be glad to look at your newest version of Sly once you upload


And as for your story not being my kind of fantasy? Well, I can't rightly say since I've never tried your brand before--I'll admit I dabbled in the older draft of Sly you uploaded all those months ago, skimming maybe a chapter of it. I thought your style was rather witty and fun, but because I knew you were redrafting, stopped there.


You don't have to feel obligated to review in return, though I'd love your opinion--I remember Destiny's Bond confused you more than anything the last time you tried reading it, so if you find yourself in the same vote again, I'll understand if you'd rather not review.


Message me or comment on this thread once you've uploaded the new draft and I'll check it out.



Mimi Speike
Posted: Thursday, April 23, 2015 10:54 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

It's good that you didn't read on, for it has changed enormously. I think I have fixed some problems, and probably created others. I will definitely read your book and comment. But first I have a few more changes I want to make on mine. Thanks.

Amber Wolfe
Posted: Friday, April 24, 2015 12:02 AM

You're welcome, Mimi


Since you're set on it, I'll be looking forward to your 'dissecting' my manuscript--I just read some of the reviews you've written for others. They were all thorough and awesome, in my opinion.


I'm rooting for you getting those changes finished.


Happy Writing!

Rachel Anne Marks
Posted: Sunday, April 26, 2015 5:16 PM
Joined: 1/23/2012
Posts: 36

Great points, Amber! I agree, it comes down to personality for the most part. It also comes from background and education. You may have one character that's wealthy and was given a lot of educational opportunities, then you have the back woods character who had to quit school to help his mom when his dad ran off.


It helps me to kind of (as strange as it sounds) become the person and feel their life, history, world, hopes, emotions, all those things. Then I feel like things are so much more clear. I don't have to guess anymore what they'll say.

Here's a convo between a a guy and a girl. I always attempt and make it that I would know who's talking even without tags:

Fin starts to move in for what I assume is a kiss. I jerk back my head and burst out, "I'm in love with Diego!"


He pauses and searches my face for a second and then he laughs. "Well, that's nice, but I was just going in for a hug. We can still hug, right?"


My pulse slows a little and I'm totally mortified, but I nod my head. "Sure. Hug is good."


He winks at me, his smile only growing. "Grand." And he wraps me in his arms.


It takes me a second but I eventually settle into the warm embrace. "Thanks, Fin," I say after I can gather my thoughts again.


He pulls away and kisses my forehead. "For what, love?"


"For just being you." I give him a kiss on his forehead back. "You're a good friend."


"Ah, yes, the dreaded friend-zone. I've heard about this from your ma's telly."


"The telly, huh?"


"Oh, yeah, that telly tells me all things about colonial culture. And from what I could surmise, the friend-zone is a vast sexual desert that only dumbshites end up in."


I laugh and lean in whispering, "Ah yes, but you get all the fist-bumps and high-fives you can handle." I take his wrist and hold up his hand to give it a high-five, then grip it, leading him into walking again.


"Lovely," he says, curling his fingers into mine and pretending to sound annoyed as he follows me.

--edited by Rachel Anne Marks on 4/26/2015, 5:23 PM--

Posted: Wednesday, May 6, 2015 11:28 AM
Joined: 3/23/2015
Posts: 12

See, this is why character development is such an important part of the story, as it's the basis for how a character is supposed to act for the duration of the story. While it may seem easy, dialogue building is quite difficult since you have to constantly check whether the words being spoken by a character matches their personality.


Here are some two dialogues from Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich. We recently covered this in our bookclub:


“He's hot, Lula said, "but he's a pig. All men are pigs."
"Do you really believe that?"
"No but it's a point of view to keep in mind . You don't want to go around thinkin' shit is your fault. Next thing you know, they got you makin' pot roast and you're cutting up your mastercard.” 


This is a clear example of dialogue which shows character difference, 

Lucy Silag - Book Country Director
Posted: Wednesday, May 6, 2015 11:33 AM
Joined: 6/7/2013
Posts: 1356

This dialogue from Janet Evanovich is pretty funny!

What's that book club link? It went to a site in a language I'm unable to read. 

Mimi Speike
Posted: Thursday, May 7, 2015 7:11 AM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

I thank Amber again for the review she just gave me on Sly - The Novella. She has confirmed that my characters sound too much alike, and I am determined to work on that. 


My problem, as I see it, is that I don't have one character dealing with one or a series of challenges, I have a half-dozen or so characters who are all schemers, all using each other and stabbing each other in the back. Their mindset, except for three, is very similar. It's everyone for himself in my world. I admit that I push them in that direction with a great deal of glee. And I'm always on the lookout for new ways that they can double cross each other. And they all put up a front, naturally.


As I work on the art, I will be thinking this over. Amber is very sharp on dialog and I trust her completely.


Mimi Speike
Posted: Thursday, May 7, 2015 7:51 AM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

My edit command suddenly isn't working, so I'll add another reply.


Class differences don't do it here. ZaZa, my shopgirl, with her eye on bumbling Prince Bittor, was told by a fortune teller as a child that she would one day own the heart of a king (this happened to Madame do Pompadour) and her mother has been raising her for that possibility. Zagi my archbishop is educating her for the same end, knowing that the prince is an idiot like his father and seeing in her a capable queen who will save the kingdom's ass.


Zagi's lifelong dream is to be a playwright in Paris. Gustave d'Ollot, the Minister of Finance, the son of a swindler who fled Burgundy for Haute-Navarre, longs to live the high life in Paris and sees his chance in a whacko scheme he and Zagi have cooked up. A streetwalker, Buttercup, who has the high class Paris accent d'Ollot lacks (she had worked in a chi-chi brothel in Paris as a young girl) is one d'Ollot is taken with (he does not know she's a whore, she's the sister of his maid) and her facility with accents is useful in his plans.


Buttercup, it turns out, is the birth mother of ZaZa, who she gave away for adoption when she was fourteen. She had been used and cast aside by Bela, the Captain of the Palace Guard. His two young sons, Igon and Eder, are furious with their father for his cruelty to Butter and sad to realize that she might have been their mother. They have taken a great liking to her, after being thrown together with her. She has been recruited to take part in the fake Virgin Mary encounter. She has some acting chops, from her role-play experiences in the brothel. One of her sicko clients will be along presently to solve a few problems for me, so neatly I can hardly believe it. 


ZaZa's adoptive Mama, Donetsi, has known all along that Belasco is the girl's father, but has kept it quiet, him being a low-life out of the working class lower town. Now he's Captain of the Guard, and rumored to be very close to the queen, and she'll get him to advocate for the ZaZa-Bittor marriage. He'll be all too happy to influence the selection of a future queen, from which he is sure to benefit.


And so it goes. No one is what they seem to be. No one is what they want to be. Or who they want to be. Everybody but Prince Bittor and the old king is sharp as a tack. Of course they all sound alike, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Still, I have to work out something to set them apart. Any ideas would be appreciated.


--edited by Mimi Speike on 5/7/2015, 1:57 PM--

Mimi Speike
Posted: Saturday, May 9, 2015 1:07 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

I think I got this idea from Amber: I'm going to read through again, visualizing my story as a movie. How would an actor speak and act out the parts? My other idea: I read that Marilyn Monroe said to someone once, 'I have to go be Marilyn now'. She saw Marilyn as a creation apart from herself. ZaZa could do that, I think. Unless she has so internalized the idea of her elevation to mistress/consort that she never dumps the pose.


Amber, you are full of good ideas. Feed me some more!




Uh oh. I am going to have to read very carefully. I just realized that in the chapters I've removed to streamline and shorten my text for a novella is the explanation of how Gustave d'Ollot, son of a swindler from Burgundy, came to be a Duke. 


--edited by Mimi Speike on 5/9/2015, 5:53 PM--

Amber Wolfe
Posted: Sunday, May 10, 2015 4:07 AM

Hmm . . . You want ideas, huh, Mimi? Let's see . . .


For one, picturing the scenes as a movie while you're reading is a very good idea--I do it even as I'm writing the manuscript. For some reason, envisioning the manuscript as a movie helps me to pinpoint how it should be written down in words, as well as what the surroundings and reactions will be, the dialogue, external actions, etc. Of course, I always picture my characters and scenes as Anime, so . . .


Now, for other ideas . . .


Well, I've heard of some people who write out the dialogue without any tags and descriptions, just to figure out how the dialogue will sound without it. I guess it helps them to decide whether it'll sound original to each character without interference. I've never tried that method myself, but it seems to work for those who choose to utilize it.


Dialogue like that would be written like so:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"I can't understand why you'd do something as stupid as waking up a sleeping dragon. Don't you know they hate being disturbed? I mean, really, what were you thinking?"


"I was thinking we'd get some answers from it, that's what. Besides, you know I didn't mean to."


"Well, whether you meant to or not is moot, anyway. Look at you. Your hair's almost singed off."


"Because you shouted at me and startled the damn lizard."


"I didn't startle him, idiot. You woke him up!"

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

And then, if the author was satisfied with how the dialogue sounded, they'd add in the tags and descriptions, like so:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"I can't understand why you'd do something as stupid as waking up a sleeping dragon," Lilith said, scowling at her companion. "Don't you know they hate being disturbed? I mean, really, what were you thinking?"


Aron returned her scowl with one of his own. "I was thinking we'd get some answers from it, that's what. Besides, you know I didn't mean to."


"Well, whether you meant to or not is moot, anyway. Look at you. Your hair's almost singed off."


"Because you shouted at me and startled the damn lizard," Aron snarled. He patted at the smoking remnants of his silken locks and grimaced.


"I didn't startle him, idiot." Flushed a bright crimson, Lilith slapped Aron upside his head. God, he could be an ass sometimes. "You woke him up!"

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

And there you have it. I don't know whether that'll help you or not, but it could make it easier for you to determine whether the dialogue between characters is sounding too much alike. Without the tags and descriptions, the dialogue could become less bogged by the text.



Mimi Speike
Posted: Monday, May 11, 2015 1:16 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

                                                               YES, HE TALKS TO ANIMALS TOO.  


I can’t believe I have to explain this. I’ve been asked, Sly talks to people, fine. He talks to dogs as well? How? A nonsensical step too far for one reader, apparently. I’d ignore it, but she’s my editor. I’ll deal with it now, because in the course of my story he talks to, let’s see, a pig, a cow, a frog, and a gang of rats. Here is my definitive reply:


Now, anyone can talk to/at anything. Whether you get an intelligent response is another thing. Some animals have a well-developed language. Dogs, for instance. Their lingo is complex, due to the thousands of years they have been intimately associated with humans. Sly had been a runt of a kitten, picked on by everyone, but dogs were the worst. Mastering Dog was a survival skill. He learned early that if you could keep a bully laughing, you were more likely to escape a confrontation intact.  


His vocabulary is limited, and his grammar is abysmal. Maybe that’s why the hoity yip-yaps were so contemptuous of him. His Dog is nowhere near up to snuff. But what he has does him fine. The shock of being cussed out by a cat in your own tongue sends the baddest bad-ass canine running for the hills. Generally.


Frog is nowhere near as challenging. He had a dear froggie friend years back, an outcast like himself. They were inseparable. We all know that language is easier to pick up in the early years. His Frog is quite decent. It’s going to come in handy down the road.


Pig? He grew up on a farm, and was intrigued by their animated conversations. Pigs are very intelligent creatures, and delightful kibitzers, as you’ll see if you stick around to meet Hislop in Book Two.  


Cows? Same deal, early exposure and the drive to keep at it. And, the confidence to ignore laughing fits over poor pronunciation. (Cow, very dependent on tone, is not an easy acquire.) On the farm, his chore was to police the barn. Which he did, well enough, along with a whole lotta messing around. He had a makeshift pirate ship set up there. He and his friend Ferd spent their afternoons stalking heavy-laden treasure ships, yelling, avast, me hardies, and so on.


He avoided the barn at sundown. The cows, hugely amused by his antics, so convulsed at the mere sight of him that, him on hand at milking time, they were frequently unable to settle down for a drain, too engrossed in trading quips over the stalls, sometimes knocking over the milk pail from high spirits.


Rats? He’s got that covered too, luckily. He’ll be running into beaucoup rats in the North German town of Hameln, to which he and John Dee will repair, having worn out their welcome at the English court. Made aware of an opportunity to pick up some dough as a rodent exterminator, John Dee, always short of funds, proposes they take a stab at it. His position as Elizabeth’s Royal Astrologer paid off mostly in prestige. Hameln, followed by the encounter with the Frog Who Would Be King, comprises a good chunk of Book Three.


All I can say is, bull-headed determination, talent, sure, but mostly his sheer stubborn refusal to accept reality and his screw that response to rules, in sum, his irritating personality, got Sly to where he is, in terms of both personal development and professional influence. Blind to discouragement, he allowed himself a day to wallow in self-pity, then he picked up and pushed on. There’s a lesson there for all of us.


Have I settled the animal conversation issue? At least I’ve made you aware of some of what’s in store. The material in my novella and a whole lot more will be packaged as Book One. I will now disappear into my hole, to try to build a web site. See you in a week, with a report.


--edited by Mimi Speike on 5/11/2015, 1:26 PM--

Mimi Speike
Posted: Monday, May 11, 2015 4:55 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

That comment, how does the cat talk to dogs? I don't think she meant it as a compliment, but maybe it is. Maybe I've drawn the cat's abilities, and how he came to them, so realistically that, forget the suspension of disbelief, she is so close to believing that she needs to understand how the dog quarrel works.


Why didn't I ask her? It didn't occur to me until a few minutes ago.


--edited by Mimi Speike on 5/11/2015, 5:03 PM--

Peter Carlyle
Posted: Thursday, August 20, 2015 9:42 AM
Joined: 8/20/2015
Posts: 19

It's difficult and something I struggle with. If some of my characters are less well educated, I write ungrammatical dialogue and will sometimes use the wrong words if they are ignorant.


If someone is very well educated and foreign I will use perfect dialogue i.e. I will not, rather than I won't. One of my characters is Polish and can speak seven languages and her dialogue is perfect.

Mimi Speike
Posted: Thursday, August 20, 2015 12:07 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

I am also struggling with this. I feel it is my big problem. Others might cite my overabundance of foundational material, my need to explain (my guy, a talking cat, takes a heap of explaining) and, my increasingly idiosyncratic structure. Oh God, wait until they run into the footnotes.


Nevertheless, individual voices is what I feel I must deal with. I'm quite comfortable with the rest of my free-range point of view, accommodating my Medusa-head of a story. Cut off one digression, two take its place. 


--edited by Mimi Speike on 8/20/2015, 12:10 PM--

Peter Carlyle
Posted: Friday, August 21, 2015 11:11 AM
Joined: 8/20/2015
Posts: 19

I am hopeless at understanding some dialects and if a book is written in dialects I can't read it. 


I doubt that all that many readers will notice that characters all sound similar. What is important is knowing who is speaking. If they are from similar backgrounds then they will sound the same.

Cas Meadowfield
Posted: Wednesday, September 2, 2015 10:43 AM
Joined: 8/19/2015
Posts: 31

Like you, Amber, I use personalities and history to help with creating characters with different speech mannerisms. Their point of views also help to make them different(I hope).

These are from a middle grade book I'm working on...


Jade, my MC, is searching for someone to help her end a drought. Her guide has led her to Eva...


Soon Jade had an apron over her newly washed clothes and her hands in flour. While they prepared the food, Eva asked Jade about her home.

“Where do you come from?”

“A village south of the great forest. My father’s village headman. My great-grandmother’s an earth mage...” Jade’s voice faded.

“What’s wrong?” Eva asked.

“My father’s not happy I’m being trained in magic. He doesn’t talk to me much.” She stopped rubbing butter into flour to wipe her eyes with the back of her hands.

Eva nodded, “He probably worries what people think and he wants you to be accepted. My son in law has forbidden Mist: my granddaughter, from learning magic. They trade with the kingdoms beyond the Brum Mountains and the people there are terrified of magic, and lock up and sometimes kill magic users.”

“That’s horrible,” Jade gasped.


“Yes, it is,” Eva sighed. “But we have to cope with life as it is, not as we would like it to be.”



When she walked into the kitchen the girl snarled, “Who are you! What are you doing here, Gran, do you know her?”

            “It’s all right, Mist. Jade’s staying here for a few days. She helped me bake.”


            Mist scowled at Jade, hands clenched in fists. Her blue, grey eyes, as threatening as a thunderstorm.  


Posted: Monday, September 14, 2015 2:32 PM
Joined: 4/26/2013
Posts: 3

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about dialogue lately, so I'm excited I found this discussion!! Amber, I think you're really spot on! I like to use real inspiration for my characters when I write and I like to add their speech patterns into the dialogue, also keeping in mind that the settings are different.


For example, one of my MC's was inspired by my younger sister, who loves to speak in monologues. She'll call me almost daily and speak for about 10 minutes while I just 'mmhmm' and 'ohh'. So I added that run-on feel to my character. I think it adds a bit of texture to her personality. On the opposite end of the spectrum is that MC's love interest, who spends quite a bit of time in isolation, so when he speaks he uses short, direct sentences. 


Thank you everyone for your examples and advice. Love this!