Creating characters with distinct voices

In this tutorial, I am going to show you how to create characters with distinct voices and behaviors. When it comes to writing your characters, you need to remember that your characters are all different. They have different dreams, goals, behaviors, and feelings.

Now before I elaborate further, I want to make it clear that yes, two or more characters can have the same things in mind, but each character is going to react differently. For example, Michelle Warner and Betsy Rose are close friends. Both have a dream of getting into the same university.

The reason behind their dreams is going to be different. Or rather it should. An immature way of writing is having their dreams the same because they’re friends. As different people, they need to have a different reason for going to the same university.

Example: Michelle Warner decides to attend Miami University because she can meet a lot of good-looking men there. Betsy Rose decides to attend the same university because it has the best program. Michelle only cares about finishing her education to make her parents proud. Betsy cares because she wants a good career.

So we have two characters. Both are young woman who are attending the same university for different reasons. How do we make them distinct from one another in voice? There are steps to go about this.

First, let’s picture these characters. Michelle is tall with brown hair, big brown eyes, and a sultry look about her. Betsy is shorter, blond hair, green eyes, and is friendly looking.

Now that we have their images in our minds, let’s consider their voices. Each person’s voice is going to differ from one person to the next. Think about the time you were with friends. How did their voices sound to you? Was one voice higher than the other? Did one have a lilt while the other did not?

Let’s use another example.

Michelle crossed one leg over the other and smoothed down her blouse. “I’m attending Miami University with my friend Betsy here.” She raised her eyes toward their male guest, eyelashes fluttering. “I hope I’ll see you there,” she added in a purr.

Betsy swallowed her drink as fast as she could, not wanting to risk spitting it out all over their guest. She leaned forward, fingers resting around her drink. “You know…” she broke in, interrupting Michelle, “the university has a marvelous graduation rate compared to others. It was rated one of the highest in the community.”

Based on their actions, we can tell that Michelle’s voice is seductive. She’s the type of woman who enjoys the company of a man. She probably wouldn’t care much about her grades beyond a C average. Now, on the other hand, we can tell Betsy’s voice sounds quite factual. She also wants their guest to know how serious she is, hence the leaning forward.

To input the differences between character behavior and voice is to show them differently in the first place. The examples I wrote above show that Michelle’s and Betsy’s actions are different from one another. Michelle smoothed down her blouse, raised her eyes, and fluttered her eyelashes. She also spoke in a purring way, indicating further flirtatiousness. Betsy’s interruption of her friend indicates a passion for education. She spoke calmly, but also factly.

Another trick to use when making characters with distinct voices is to show their responses uniquely. Example. Write it out how it sounds. Stephen King’s characters in Firestarter all have distinct voices. His character Rainbird cusses a lot and uses words like “Sho’ boss, sho.” (Sure, boss, sure.)

Think of JK Rowling’s Hagrid. He spoke with a slightly different accent, and JK showed this by dropping a letter and replacing it with a single inverted comma.

Still, another trick to use is to make use of the character’s vocabulary. Let’s take a look back to the early 80s My Little Pony. Wind Whistler is very intelligent and very serious. She has a high vocabulary compared to other ponies. She uses fancy words compared to other ponies when speaking. “I trust finding these items will not be too difficult.” She raised her head, smiling.

Shady, another pony, is very shy and always worrying. She suspects the worst, fearing that something bad will always happen. “Maybe we won’t find them,” Shady moaned, dropping her head.

Remember, the voice of a character needs to sound different to your readers as it does to you. Try out the steps above and remember practice, practice, practice! It also helps to read a lot of books. Study the author’s characters. Note their speaking style, their behavior when speaking, and any other actions behind their speeches. It also helps to study how people in real life speak and act. Use it to your advantage. Happy writing!


Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash


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