“Give Each Character a Distinctive Voice” by Joan Y. Edwards
It is so much fun to watch movies and read novels and children’s books where you can tell who is talking the moment the words of dialogue spill out on the page!
Does he talk fast most of the time which makes you miss some important information?
Does she talk so slow you forget what she said to in the beginning?
Is his voice low pitched like a bass?
Is her voice high-pitched and grate on your nerves?
Is he always late?
Is she always early?
Is he agile and talented like an Olympic champion?
Is she afraid of being clumsy in front of others?
Is he prejudiced but can’t see it in himself?
Is she fearful in areas where she is a minority?
Does bad luck follow him around?
Is she always in a crisis mode?
It is important for readers to be able to know without a doubt who is talking or who is doing a certain action because it helps them have a running video in their mind of what is going on and perhaps figuring out why and wondering what is going to happen next.
What readers know about characters keeps them involved in your story.
The more you know about your characters and their history before the moment they step into your story, it will help you make your story more believable and give your characters traits that pull readers to them. These little quirks will make your readers want to find out what happens to them. They will see themselves in this situation and wonder what they would do. They want to see if the characters do the same thing they would do. They will want to find out if the clumsy character can get through the crisis without falling down this one time.
Think about your favorite character. What are 3 adjectives to describe them. What makes them different from the other characters in your story? What will cause them problems getting along because they are so different?
One of my favorite characters is Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny a screenplay by Dale Launer. She is intelligent, always wants to help Vinny, and although she doesn’t look like it or act like it, she is an expert in all things about cars. This fact ends up helping Vinny save his cousin and his friend from being convicted of murder.
Another favorite character is Juror 8 played by Henry Fonda in “12 Angry Men,” adapted from a teleplay by Reginald Rose. He was the only juror who believed the teenage boy was innocent at the beginning. He convinced the eleven other men on the jury to change their minds. There were a few who would rather say the boy was guilty so they could get out of there in a hurry.
My third favorite character is Ichabod Crane from the Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. He is so thin and his horse isn’t much heavier. He is scared of his own shadow and believes anything and everything others tell him. Which makes it so funny when he gets frightened because no one will ever venture where these men were murdered and their heads severed from their bodies. I like Walt Disney’s cartoon version better than the version better than the 1999 Version with Johnny Depp. Both are great productions, however, the cartoon version brings out the humor better for me.
Please leave a comment telling me your favorite character and three adjectives or sentences to describe him or her along with the name of the book or movie in which we will find them.
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Joan Y. Edwards, Author
Copyright © 2009-2021 Joan Y. Edwards
1, “7 Effective Ways to Give Your Characters Unique Voices:” https://screencraft.org/2017/10/25/effective-ways-to-give-your-characters-unique-voices/
2. “Character Trait Descriptive Adjectives:” https://lesn.appstate.edu/fryeem/RE4030/character_trait_descriptive_adje.htm
3. “How to Define Your Character’s Unique Voice:” https://www.well-storied.com/blog/how-to-define-your-characters-unique-voice
4. “How to Write Dialogue:”
5. “How to Write Natural Dialogue in 11 Steps:” https://blog.reedsy.com/guide/how-to-write-dialogue/
6. Karen Woodward. “How to Create Distinct Characters:” https://blog.karenwoodward.org/2013/12/how-to-create-distinct-characters.html
7. Reedsy.com. “Character Questionnaire:” https://blog.reedsy.com/character-questionnaire/
From my website:
12 thoughts on “Give Each Character a Distinctive Voice by Joan Y. Edwards”
Joan, what a great post!! As you say, it is such a help to a writer to do character sketches before writing, to have those characters firmly in mind. That way, their actions and words flow more easily. I think my favorite character is Jane Eyre, who even as a small child, is self-reliant, inquisitive, honest to a fault, and defiant. You go, Jane! I love the scene in the beginning of the book where she tells Mr. Brocklehurst, the owner of the orphanage to which she is being banished, that to stay out of hell she must “stay in good health and not die.” Priceless. Thanks for your post, Joan.
Thank you for writing. I am glad you liked my post. Such an honor for you, a reader and an author, to say it was great.
I love your description of Jane Eyre. She definitely gives each of us a lesson for living.
Enjoy your writing!!!
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Thanks for all these resources, Joan. I’ll check into them!
Thanks for writing. You are welcome for the resources. I hope they help you.
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Good post, Joan.
One of my favorite characters is Kevin McCallister, played by Macaulay Culkin, in Home Alone. His expressions, his tactics, and scenes created to fool the robbers and even the grocery clerk are unforgettable. Not the traditional Christmas story either.
Thank you for writing. Kevin McCallister in Home Alone is indeed a well-defined character in Home Alone. At first you don’t especially like him and then he grows on you because of how he reacts and responds to the problem of being home Alone with these two goofy guys trying to hurt him. John Hughes, the author of this screenplay did an excellent job of setting up his characters and making you laugh with surprise and anticipation. John Hughes died in 2009. His humor is missed.
Enjoy your day! Thanks for the reminder of a fun character and fun movie.
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Another great post, as usual, Joan. I use an incredibly detailed spreadsheet to flesh out my characters before I start writing, which I hope makes my characters leap off the page. Since some of the other commenters have mentioned Christmas movies and their characters, I’m going to jump with Miracle on 34th Street, starring Maureen O’Hara in the role of Doris. That’s who I based my character, Serenity Layne, on in my Christmas novella; It Happened on Dufferin Terrace.
Thank you for writing. Thank you for saying it was a great post. The details you go through to flesh out your characters pays off in your novels. Miracle on 34th Street is my favorite Christmas Movie. Maureen O’Hara did an outstanding job of portraying Doris. Neat that you based your character, Serenity, after her. I really like Serenity in It Happened at Dufferin Terrace..
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Joan–Thank you for a very helpful article with accompanying references I will be sure to look up. Characters are certainly what a reader attaches him/her self to!
I have long liked the movie A Christmas Story for several reasons including the father as representative of many fathers in the Midwest at that time. They struggled with coal heat, one bathroom houses, small rooms, and were the sole providers for their families. My own father had his problems with coal furnaces but didn’t swear like the dad in the movie.
A character set in a certain time period can definitely evoke memories and certainly contributes to the enjoyment of ‘a read’….
Oh my! It is so good to hear from you! I am glad that you liked this post and think the resources will be helpful. Isn’t it wonderful that movies and books can evoke vivid memories with family and friends. I am glad that The Christmas Story reminded you of your Dad. Good luck with your writing! You have a way with words.
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Well, I always point to this character as I just love her. I see the positive in her and slightly ignore the negatives. Don’t we all have negatives? I like Scarlett in Gone With The Wind. She’s brave, resilient and learns the money game way back then. Brave and resilient are not the same-so I love the resiliency and the resolve to try again. I read the book and saw the movie at least four times or so.
I should come into the modern era with my favorites, however, I devoted myself to my kids so I’d have to give you kids books/movies.
In real life, Miss Melanie, is the one who lived the longest, dying in Paris last year. She was the altruistic angel in that movie. Now that’s a story. I like both those types of characters. Thanks for the tips. I’ll use them.
Thank you for writing! I love hearing from you. You are right. Scarlett O’Hara is indeed resilient. She is a great character. Someone you hate, admire, and hope she changes for the better.
I love characters from children’s books, too.
Glad you plan to use the tips I mentioned. Thank you for honoring me that eay.
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