Improving Characterization: Diverse Voices

Joe Harman, the Australian cattleman in A Town Like Alice, habitually concedes, “You’re too right” or “It’s a fair cow.” Merriam-Webster defines the latter slang for me: “exceedingly troublesome.” Who knew? Australians knew.

Our speech patterns are riddled with clues about our geographical region, personality, habits, generation, occupation and so on. What don’t we reveal when we speak?

Think of word choice alone.

  • Age or generation: Do you say “couch” or “davenport,” “chill” or “cool”?
  • Geographical region: Do you say “soda” or “pop,” “runners” or “tennis shoes”?

As we listen, we’ll hear the word our character uses repeatedly as she launches into an angry tirade. Or how another character interrupts and over speaks others.

If a little smile is lifting your lips, you’re right. This is fun.




Consider It: Study a piece of nonfiction or fiction that uses multiple viewpoint characters (Wonder or Hugh Cook’s Heron River are excellent fiction samples).
How do these writers create different voices? Compare two characters. Cite
examples of how the difference in voice is created (e.g., sentence length).
Write It: Create different voices in your dialogue by brainstorming these
prompts for two characters:
• Name
• Level of diction
• Pet buzzwords
• Favorite swear words
• Preferred metaphors
• Length of sentences or turn-taking

from Creative Juices: A Splash of Story Craft, Process and Creative Soul Care