Yesterday a Goodreads reviewer wrote, "every character sounds unique" in Unholy Alliance. I want to share how I do this. Do you stop reading a novel because the characters all sound like the narrator? Let’s assume you as the writer chose names that fit the character type. Use both long and short names and not one that already exists by checking on Google. Describe each character as they appear and reference the description later in your story. Is he the guy with the beard? Changing how they sound will help your readers imagine “real people”.
Write conversations as if the character said it. Most characters will not sound like you if you put effort into this. Start with the character’s personality and add unique speech. Is your character aggressive, shy, authoritarian, shifty, relaxed, or nervous? It’s okay to base characters on real people. Does your character have a regional accent or use slang? In my work-in-progress, my Hawaiian heroine, Jolene Kualoha, says, “Aloha.” Not too often since this can get irritating. A secondary character, an FBI agent, ends sentences with, “Are you with me?” Do you have a religious person or hipster in your book? They will express who they are and what they stand for. Here is another tip that makes a huge difference with authentic sounding speech—sentence length. Your characters speak in short bursts, not always in complete sentences. A villain might say, “Robbed her house. Grabbed her. Now my gun is on you.” Think about the character goals. Does your character turn the conversation around to focus on their goal? May a character swears. Others don’t even when someone drops an f-bomb. What about throat sounds, stutters, or saying “um” which I like for a secondary character. Tone of voice is extremely important. Someone might have a gravely or squeaky voice. What about including a habit such as winding hair with a finger when nervous, touching an ear, scratching their chin, or wringing hands? Characters use mannerisms when talking. Remember to add actions with conversations. They can look around and see things. Be sure to match the character’s voice with their career when they make comparisons. An annoying secondary character might say things twice. My hero, Danker Donahue, in my work-in-progress, Bittersweet Alliance, likes to joke. This takes attention away from him because he is working on a case with Jolene, and their relationship ended badly six years before. Remember that when people are excited, they interrupt each other or finish sentences. For example, Danker and Jolene (who knows everyone in town) are checking out at the market when the checker (Luana) is snoopy:
He swiped his credit card.
Luana bagged the items and stifled a gasp. “If you don’t mind me asking—”
“I do mind.” He winked at the middle-aged checker.