Archive for how-to

How to Write Unique Character Voices

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2016 by Dawn Ross

Yoda and Bad Grammar

Have you ever read a book but couldn’t get into the story because the characters were so flat? There could be many reasons why a character is flat, but the one being discussed here is in regard to the way they speak. When everyone speaks in the same way, it makes it difficult for the reader to see them as individuals. It also makes it difficult for the reader to tell who is speaking if there are no tags present.

If you’ve been reading my sci-fi story, you have probably noticed that I’m in no way an expert at making each of my characters speak differently. But I’ve been studying the subject intensely and have been trying to apply what I’ve learned. Here are some general ideas on how to make each character sound unique:

Word Choice

Different people often use different words for the same things. Example 1 – One person may go around saying ‘awesome’ all the time while another may say ‘cool’ or ‘nifty’. Example 2 – One person may use a lot of big words while another person would use simpler words. Example 3 – One person could speak in a more formal manner while another uses more slang. Example 4 and the one I’ve used for a few of my characters – One person never curses while another curses all the time.

Word Order

Yoda from Star Wars would be a great example of word order. Instead of, “You have become powerful. I sense the dark side in you,” he says, “Powerful you have become. The dark side I sense in you.” Another example would be in Spanish versus English. In English, we say, “The yellow book,” but a direct translation from Spanish “El libro amarillo,” is “The book yellow.”



Have you ever noticed that not everyone speaks in proper English? Someone had pointed out how one of my characters said, “From who?” instead of the proper, “From whom?” How many people do you know who actually say the word ‘whom’? There are a few, I’m sure. But I personally seldom ever hear the word. Also, how many people say words improperly, like ‘irregardless’ or ‘supposably’? It’s okay to have misspelled or mispronounced words when a character is speaking. However, be careful not to overdo it or it will annoy your reader. Here is a great resource for words that are often pronounced incorrectly –


If you’re writing in close-third person, even your descriptions should be closely aligned with the character. For example, one of the characters in my story describes things or uses idioms related to animals. So when he describes a color, he describes it in a way that relates to an animal. Some characters may also speak their idioms out loud, such as, “knee-high to a grasshopper” or “uglier than sin”. Keep idioms in mind whether the character is speaking them, thinking them, or describing the scene around him.

Foreign Words

One of my main characters occasionally uses foreign words. Make sure to use the foreign word so that the reader can still understand it based on its context. The reader might not know what the word ‘koshinuke’ means but in the right context they might realize it means ‘coward’. As with misspoken words, be careful not to use too many foreign words or it will annoy your reader.

Filler Words

Filler words are meaningless words. Perhaps one of your characters says, ‘um’ a lot. Or they may begin almost every sentence with, ‘Well…” Also, perhaps they also end just about every sentence with a word or phrase such as, ‘ey?’ or “ya know?’. Here are some great examples I’ve found –

Other Ideas

How about a character with a lot of faith? Perhaps they say, ‘Thank God’ or ‘Thank the Lord’ a lot. Maybe they give a lot of blessings or offer prayers. Other ideas – overly polite characters, blunt characters, characters who talk a lot, characters who keep it short and simple, characters who mispronounce certain letters, characters who sigh a lot, and so much more!

Listen to how different people speak and take note of the different words they use. Does a doctor speak differently from a farmer? Does a policeman speak differently than a politician? Does someone whose native language is Chinese speak differently than someone from Australia? Listen and learn and you too can develop unique character voices.


In addition to writing unique character voices, here are four ways you can show which of your characters is speaking:

Three ways to tell who is speaking:

  1. With tags like ‘he said’ or ‘she replied’. (Note, avoid using too many creative tags like ‘he insisted’ or ‘she hissed’. Readers tend to skim over the more common said and replied tags and get hung up on creative tags. Besides, the character’s actions and the construction of their speech should speak for themselves. Another point is people don’t hiss or growl words. So if you use a creative tag, use it sparingly and use it appropriately.)
  2. With actions. For example, instead of “Don’t do that,” Mike said, say, Mike shook his finger. “Don’t do that.” Incidentally, different gestures might be another way you can distinguish your characters. For example, perhaps Mary crosses her arms a lot or George twitches his mouth when he’s thinking.
  3. With the character’s unique voice. Take Yoda, for example. For anyone writing fan-fiction, there is no reason to say, Yoda said. Simply writing in the unique way he speaks will tell the reader who is speaking.
  4. With tone. Perhaps this is just my own technique, but in some situations I like to describe the tone in which the speaker is speaking. I don’t use this technique often. It’s usually only used when I want to emphasize how a character might have a different sounding voice or when my character is using a different tone than usual and I can’t seem to find any other way to convey it. For example, “If you ever do that again…” Mike’s tone rumbled from the lowest octave. Another example, “So, what’cha up to?” Jake’s voice was naturally gruff, but there was a friendliness to his tone. Here is a link I found on other ways to describe a tone of voice –

If you have any other ideas on how to write unique character voices or to show who is speaking in your story, please comment below.

Plan for Rewriting Part One of the Kavakian Empire

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised, The Kavakian Empire, Writing with tags , , , , , , , on January 16, 2016 by Dawn Ross

How-to Book "How to Create Character"

#1 Make the characters deeper. How am I going to do this? I’ve been reading a lot of how-to posts online as well as how-to books. The best and most thorough help so far is a book called, “How to Create a Character” by Logan Mathis. Basic tips it gives is to get inside their head, make sure they have a strong desire/goal, give the characters meaningful names where applicable, describe the characters physical appearance, give them unique features and/or character habits, reveal backstory but only a little at a time and only if relevant to the story, consider different patterns of speech for each character, create character relationships and character conflicts, and so on.

Some of these things I feel I have done, some I need to do better, and some I will need to do because I didn’t do them at all. Did anyone notice that I seldom described characters’ physical descriptions? If you went on to read part two of my sci-fi novella, then you may have only just learned that Terk and Jori are Asian in appearance and that J.T. has sandy blond hair!

I am also going to be more consistent with Jori’s character. He appeared to go back and forth between being a brat and being good. I don’t think I explained why well enough. So I am going to have him consistently snotty in the beginning until his wall finally comes down when Terk nearly dies. Even then, he may still be a bit moody, but it won’t be until that point that he truly feels safe and truly feels like he can trust J.T.

J.T. will have a little bit of a more complex background. Since he is new to the ship, he is not yet sure of his position as second in command. Although he will be a capable commander, he will reveal uncertainty in his head. And this will be more evident between him and Robert.

I indicated that Terk will wake up, but I never really wrote about Terk in part one. I skimmed his adventures. So I will go into more detail on him in part one. This way, when you read part two of my story, you will already have a good idea of what he’s like.

#2 Add more sensory information to scenes. I need to do better at including not just what is seen, but what is felt, heard, smelled, and tasted.

#3 Propel the reader forward. I need to keep the reader on the seat of their pants by making them wonder what will happen next. One way to do this is to create mystery to make the reader ask themselves questions that they want to learn the answers to. So one major change I am going to make is that Jori will not reveal who he is. The Odyssey crew will have to figure it out for themselves.

#4 Create more conflict and uncertainty for the protagonists. I think you all remember me saying that there is no one antagonist, just several small ones and those ones are too small. So I need to make some of the smaller ones bigger.

Robert’s conflict will be intensified as I also make his character deeper. I will add just a tad of background story on him and explain why he has such a pressing need to avoid war. I will also make the threat of war more real.

J.T.’s conflict will be intensified by the uncertainty he feels in his new position. He will also have an added desire to create a family someday. His inner conflict will be with his desire to move up and with his desire to settle down. He wants children someday, so this way his relationship with Jori will have more meaning.

The Grapnes are going to cause more trouble. And there will also be conflict because before Robert finds out who Jori is, he finds out Jori and Terk have a bounty on their heads. This will also create more mystery because no one knows what the bounty is for. So it won’t just be the Grapnes coming after Jori and Terk, it will be others as well.

When Terk wakes up, he will be a new conflict. And Calloway will have more of part to play in making trouble.

#5 Consider renaming some of the places and characters. Okay, I realized about halfway through writing part one that J.T. was too similar to James T. Kirk. He’s nothing like Kirk so I don’t really want to give that impression. I’m thinking of going with J.D. instead. The Alliance Core is also a generic name. I didn’t give it much thought because I just wanted to write. But now I realize it is too boring of a name. Also, I’m wondering if Kavakian is the right word. Even though it is the longer name for Kavak, Kavakian sounds too much like Kevorkian. Anyone remember who he is? It’s a cool name, but again, it might give the wrong impression about who the Kavaks are. I also want to rename the title. I’m thinking, “Edge of the Dragon’s Shadow”. The dragon being the Kavakian Empire since we learn in the part two saga that Emperor Kavak’s ship is named the Dragon. The word edge could indicate how close the two peoples are to war or it could indicate that Jori and Terk are like the sharp edges of the Dragon Emperor. What do you think?

I know there is a lot more that will need to be done, some of which I mentioned before. But this is the gist of it. I’m going to create a new subcategory for part one revised. So if you haven’t read part one of my science fiction story before, I suggest skipping the unrevised version and reading the revised one as I post it every week or so. Keep in mind that just because it is revised, it doesn’t mean it is perfect. I will still welcome your feedback.