3 questions to build your characters’ voices

One of my favorite panels from DV Con was about voice. The presenters brought up many powerful points.

They mentioned questions to ask about your main character (MC). Preferably, you’d ask these questions before you begin writing. But if you’re like me, you don’t know your characters as well on the first draft, so this gets spiced in later on. The questions are:

Are they hiding things? Or are they telling the reader everything?

Most of the time, MCs are the reader’s best friend, telling them everything they need to know. But that doesn’t always have to be the case. Some MCs can be oblivious to what’s important or what’s going on. Perhaps they’re cautious and don’t want to say everything either.

That doesn’t mean add vague tension though. That can turn readers away from the story, but perhaps the MC doesn’t feel the need to bring it up at all and has a oh crap moment later on cause of it.

Nicks in their dialogue? Shorter sentences? Certain common phrases?

Everyone has an accent and specific diction. My MC’s dialogue will sound different from yours. Do they repeat themselves? Say I mean all the time. Do they shutter? Do they not cuss? Do they forget words sometimes?

Back in college, a professor told us to go somewhere popular, sit down with a journal, and write what we hear. Pick up on people’s different speech patterns and what makes them unique. How do they tell their friends a story? Or talk to their family? It’s an interesting way to pick up on dialogue.

What do they pay attention to?

This relates back to what I said about the MCs being oblivious. Just because something happens, doesn’t mean the MC will think it’s important. Life is full of important and unimportant things. Plus, our sensories are almost always overloaded. We’re not going to notice everything around us. And if we don’t notice everything around us, why should our MCs?

These characteristics can help bring out a character’s unique voice and help them sound apart from others. Hope this helps!

11 thoughts on “3 questions to build your characters’ voices

  1. It’s so important for each character to have a distinct voice. I get frustrated with stories where I can’t tell who is speaking without a dialogue tag. The exercise you mentioned for dialogue sounds useful – I will try that.

    Seems like you got a lot out of the conference!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a fun exercise to try!

      And yeah, I did! I got a lot out of that one and AWP. I’m “going” to another one next month too. Virtually, of course. The virus—however awful—did help conferences reach wider audiences.


  2. Sometimes building a character profile for your MC or supporting characters will help as well, because when you ask them certain questions, If you listen to your characters, you can hear their voices, their accents, and their speech mannerisms.

    Liked by 2 people

        1. I’ve built something similar before. I have a journal where I’ve written every character’s name, magical race, backstory, etc. But I built that after the third draft or so when I felt like I knew them enough.

          But next time, I might do one beforehand and see how that goes.


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