One issue screenwriters commonly face is writing a distinct voice for each character. Every character sounds the same in the first draft of many screenplays. Let’s take a look at dialogue and see how voice can be tailored to each character.
But first, let’s define our terms. Dialogue is simply the words that are spoken. Voice is how they are spoken.
1) IN CHARACTER
Is a particular character’s dialogue “in character?” By that I mean, would your character actually say what you’ve written? Does their dialogue and voice reflect their values, socio-economic status, motivations and goals?
Great. The next question is “Would they say it like that?” Would they use those particular words? Would they swear? I hear it’s a sign of intelligence. Do they speak in full sentences or fragments? Do they use vernacular specific to a particular community?
As an exercise, think about how some characters in your screenwriting might answer the following question in the affirmative: “How are you?”
Examine the cadence, rhythm and speed of each character’s speech. Is it fast or slow? Do they pause mid-sentence or at the end of each sentence to contemplate or allow you to process? Are the pauses long or short? Are they designed so a character can take a breath, organize their thoughts or make another character feel uncomfortable?
This is one of my favorites. Does your character speak in a booming authoritarian voice or are a hushed tone? A loud voice may convey confidence or arrogance. Or they might be hard of hearing. A quiet voice may indicate shyness or a muted self-assuredness.
Does your character have their ideas logical organized in sequence? Or are they scattered, flitting from one subject to the next? Do they speak freely or are they controlled? Listen to how a politician speaks when reading off a teleprompter and compare it to how they speak at a fundraising event or at a party with family and close friends.
Does your character say what they mean and do they mean what they say? Do they tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Do they lie? If so, is it a little white lie or big, fat, full blown black lie?
Do they use subtext, metaphors or other figures of speech?
6) ALTERED SPEECH
Has your character got a neurological issue such as suffering from a stroke or speaks with a tic, stutter or staccato? These speech patterns can really be used to enhance your character traits. Is your character on the verge of a nervous breakdown and sputtering nonsense? Or are they under the influence of alcohol or mind altering drugs?
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