Finding Your Character’s Voice

Dialogue is a vital element of your film script in terms of defining your character. Part of tailoring your dialogue to each character involves giving each a unique voice.

I’ve included some excerpts from Chris Soth’s exploration of the matter.

Voice is not just the timbre, pitch, volume, tempo, modulation, resonance, elocution, diction and quality of speech.  It is the way a character speaks that is unique and specific to their personality.

Like that that other definition of the word “voice”, it must be a signature trait of your characters. Just like you recognize someone by their voice on the phone, must you be able to recognize a character by their dialogue – this “manner of speaking” voice that must be as unique to this particular character as their fingerprints or DNA.

There is a certain amount of overlap in speech among, and between, all of us that speak the same language, particularly a group of friends from similar socio-economic backgrounds. Similarities must exist to ensure communication is successful. Increasingly, there’s dialogue overlap between all of us that speak different languages as the world per force becomes more connected, cosmopolitan and global. Consider words in “Franglais” like “le weekend, le specs and le blue jean”. Moreover what is “Spanglish”? Does “taco pizza” count?

As our lexicon evolves from not just other languages, but from colloquialisms, a new URBAN DICTIONARY (click on this link) has been formed. Words like “staycation, funemployment and netiquette” are gradually permeating our vernacular. I am indebted to my eight year old for providing constant up to date translations for me.

After your first draft, you will probably notice the homogeneous nature of your dialogue. During your dialogue polish, you can start segmenting speech patterns. You’re effectively colouring in your dialogue outlines. You’ve got to speak as many languages as you have characters. Each character’s voice is essentially their own distinct, idiosyncratic language.

What will have an influence on a character’s use of language?

1. Their job (white collar, blue collar, corporate, government or royalty)

2. Their socioeconomic status and educational background (Harvard vs community college)

3. Their cultural, religious and ethnic background (foreign accents, broken English)

4. Any other languages they may speak (eg mixing Spanish with English in “Breaking Bad”)

5. Who they’re talking to in a specific SCENE… (equal, elder, child, superior, subordinate, friend, acquaintance or stranger)

6. Subtext (what do they say versus what do they mean)

The time has come for one to cease blogging and resume one’s earthly duties of writing screenplays for the masses.


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