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Posts Tagged ‘mannerisms’

Look at the title. Who would say it this way? Given that I actually created the sentence correctly, the answer that pops to your mind should me “Yoda! Yoda! Green dwarf full of sex, Yoda!” Okay, I pushed it too far.

But my point is, just by the speech pattern, you were able to recognize the character. And ideally, readers should be able to recognize at least your key players. I’m not saying that you should have a character defy the grammar and be labeled as a freak (let’s face it, not many people can pull the same stunt as Yoda and survive). But there are so many ways to express yourself and the characters you’re writing. An English gentleman will speak differently than a teenage girl from Queens. What scares me the most about some writers is that they don’t seem to realize the difference.

Make sure your characters don’t sound like you.

As Jeff from “Keep Me In Suspense” puts it:

To me, that’s either laziness or ignorance coming out. Either the author doesn’t realize that his or her characters all sound that way [i.e. like the author] – and that that’s a bad thing – or he or she doesn’t want to do the hard work of making the characters realistic and differentiated.

As a writer, you already have a certain speech pattern burnt into your brain. It’s because of your upbringing, people you socialize with and so on. However, you need to remember, that there’s very little chance that the vampire you write about will be around people with the same speech pattern as you. So you need to keep that in mind at all times.

Another thing is your favorite phrases and words you use very often. I’m sure you have some. I know I do. Like ‘Nonetheless’, ‘Oi!’, ‘Just sayin’, ‘I was just being polite.’ I have a certain type of intonation (often described by others as ‘sarcasm’). It’s important you realized your own little sayings. Because when you know them, you can control them and make sure they don’t sneak up on your characters.

A character using a bit sophisticated word like ‘nonetheless’, Britishism like ‘oi!’ and the pattern I picked up from American movies is possible (hello, me) but unlikely to be one of your characters. See, unless you actually have time to explain the character’s roots the speech pattern like that would only cause confusion. And it’s better to have your characters sound ‘strong’.

Let the character’s personality and background influence the way they speak.

That’s pretty well self-explanatory, right? But let’s go with some examples.

Gregory the English Gentleman. If he’s the essence of everything we know about English gentlemen, he will be always polite, with a little stick up his ass. He will form proper sentences, maybe even won’t use any abbreviations. If caught swearing, there’s no chance he’ll utter ‘fuck’. Most probable are British swear words like ‘bugger’, ‘bollocks’ or maybe ‘go shag yourself, Smithers’.

Keesha the Teenager from Queens. She would either use some sort of slang or she’ll pretend to be one of the cool kids by mixing the slang with normal English to appear cool. She will most likely cut ‘g’ from the ‘-ing’ form, use ‘ain’t’ and say ‘wanna’ and ‘gonna’ instead of ‘want to’ and ‘going to.’ She would also make a lot of references to movies, tvshows and such.

Stephen the PI (you might remember him from Fleshing out Characters). We established that he’s a very private person. So he will most likely use short sentences. Go right to the point. He’s a PI and he was a cop. So his vocabulary will be full of codes the police uses to identify the crimes and slang specific to law enforcement officers.

Three different characters. Three different ways of writing their dialogue and inner thoughts. Yes it might be adding to your work. But it’ll pay off. Because if in some weird cracked up universe, those three characters meet and start chatting? I won’t have to keep adding ‘said Stephen’, ‘yelled Keesha’, ‘muttered Gregory’ after each sentence and dialogue line. My readers will have a certain idea about who’s who in this game.

Use punctuation marks to indicate the speaking pattern.

I always considered that an obvious rule. But I was surprised to see writers unintentionally mislead the readers by using the wrong punctuation mark at the end of their dialogue lines. There are three punctuation marks misused the most.

Full stop / period ( . )
The most common. Used with statements and any kind of sentences that aren’t strongly emotional. You can’t finish a sentence with a full stop and then add that the character yelled. Because either your editor will call you names or your readers will call you on it.

Ellipsis ( …)
Let’s make things clear. Like with semicolons ( ; ), there’s a certain rule about ellipsis. You don’t use it, unless you have to. Ellipsis implies that the sentence isn’t finished. It leaves the readers hanging. So unless your character is wondering about something, doesn’t finish a sentence to make a ‘meaningful pause’ or is too afraid to finish the sentence… Use a period. (See what I just did? Also a good example of when you can use ellipsis)

Exclamation mark ( ! )
Your character is yelling or having an emotional reaction to something? Alright. You can use the exclamation mark. And don’t you dare using it in any other situation. Also. More than two exclamation marks in one dialogue line? That’s a first hint you need to change something. You see, exclamation mark is like CAPS in netspeak. Not very realistic, implies that the character yells all the time, and to be honest, is a bit annoying.

I told you that you can base your character’s speaking pattern on his or hers background. To see if you actually know how to do that you can try it backwards.

Write a dialogue between two different characters (it would work best with characters you’ve never written before or know very little about). And when you’re done, try to tell them apart. Try to say something about their past, their experiences, childhood, social circles and age.

Stumble It!

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