Dialogue: giving each character a unique voice

iving a character a unique voice creates a vivid mental image of a person because speech is a form of characterization. Word choice, grammar, cursing and even silence, it all says something about the sort of person.

Note: this goes for major characters only. It is not necessary to give a distinct voice to background characters or minor characters with only one or two speaking lines.

Content variation

Personality affects speech

Dialogue is filtered through your personal perception and preoccupations.

Associations are personal. The words people use to describe something stems from their personal experience. This includes use of metaphors.
Chef – “That paint is flour white.”
Gambler – “Don’t tell your wife, you can’t show her your cards!”

Personality further affects speech content. They each have a favourite expression.

Each person has their own way of saying hello (with or without nicknames) which may differ if speaking to a loved one or stranger.
Example: The womanizer calls every woman ‘darling’ right from the start. “Hello, darling.”
Example: Father to daughter: “Hello, peanut.”

Overview of variations

Word choice Jargon Code / lingo  Complex words used correctly Complex words used wrongly simple words used correctly (native language) Simple words used incorrectly (foreigner)
Cursing Curse a lot Curse sometimes Curse rarely Never Curse
Use highly offensive terms (cunt) Mild curse words (fuck) Polite substitutes (Fudge!) “F-word”
Pattern variations Fast talker = short but full sentences Fast talker = short but broken sentences Medium talker= medium length full sentences Medium talker= medium length broken sentences Slow talker = lengthy full sentences Slow talker = lengthy broken sentences
Proper grammar Broken grammar
Interaction Dominant – interrupts others a lot interrupts others sometimes Submissive – doesn’t interrupt others
Dominant – doesn’t allow interruptions sometimes allows to be interrupted submissive – always allows others to interrupt
Content No sense of humour – doesn’t tell jokes no sense of humour – does tell jokes (badly) sense of humour – doesn’t tell jokes but laughs easily sense of humour – tells lame jokes sense of humour – tells good jokes
Use endearing nicknames Use offensive nicknames Use both endearing and offensive nicknames Use no nicknames