Thompson Rivers University

Understanding Character Voice

  Posted on: March 31, 2021

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Yoda

What is Character Voice?

Character voice — the flow, order, and feel of words that are unique to a particular character — is crucial for making individual characters stand out among your cast.

Differentiation: Person, Place and Position

Accents and dialect tell us a lot about our characters. They reveal their place of origin, class, culture and even opinions. A contractor from Rexdale, Toronto, does not use the same diction as a Mennonite from Listowel, Ontario. A fisherman from Frenchmen’s Cove, Newfoundland, does not speak the same as a first-Generation Canadian from downtown Vancouver. Even within specific countries, the style or manner of speaking varies considerably. When choosing your character, it’s important to do your research and consider their origin, employment/trade and any familial or cultural ties.

Creating Dialogue

How do you find the voice of your character(s)? Start writing dialogue, maybe even a monologue. The goal is to discover the character’s voice by writing and seeing what comes naturally. How would they describe themselves? What words do they use? Do they have a particular penchant for slang or a dislike of pompous diction? Are they intelligent? Are they self-educated? Do they stutter? Is their speech short and clipped?

Accents and Slang

Accents and slang are key tools in making your character’s voice stand out among a sea of interweaving dialogue tags. However, you want to use it sparingly. It’s easy to get bogged down in the nuance of slang in an attempt to make their dialogue stand out, but too much can be distracting and offensive. Don’t let the character become a stereotype.

Voices so unique they don’t require dialogue tags

In Star Wars, Yoda’s way of speaking is so unique that most can identify him without being told who he is. His quotes are memorable not just for their sage wisdom but also for the uniqueness of his word choice.

The idea with voice is to provide your characters with individuality that fits their traits, which is why it’s important to do your research. Let the words flow out by writing and keeping in mind what you know about your character. This process can be very rewarding. And who knows? You might just learn something about them along the way.

Contact The Writing Centre to connect with tutors like Palmer Vaughn, the author of this blog post.