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I have a project that I am working on in which I need to write quite a few fictional informal email correspondences between pairs of characters. I am not using these characters in any other context.

I am working with a relatively large number of characters (12 ish) and have neither the time nor the need to fully flesh out each in great detail.

I think I am doing a good job keeping the characters interesting and unique in terms of the actual content of their conversations, but I am aware that their writing styles are all a very similar.

I have tried to identify some basic variables I can use to determine the character's writing style. So far I mainly have the following:

  • Tendency to over/under comma
  • Typical sentence length
  • Commonly used phrases/sayings (oh god, yeah-but-no, take the world by its nipples and twist)
  • Expressions of humour (haha, lol, :D)

What are some other ways I can differentiate my characters' writing styles? Or put another way, what are some things that give away a common writer that I should try and avoid?

  • 1
    That's a good start, and some of the answers (below) are also helpful. One other thing: Different writers tend to stray off-topic in different ways. That reminds me of the time my neighbor's dog ran away, and we later found him (the dog) sleeping under the front porch. But then he (the owner) moved away, and his new place doesn't have a porch. – user23046 Mar 30 '17 at 13:15
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I noticed that mails from different friends of mine vary mainly in three aspects, two of which are related to structure:

One: Length of mails. Scientists tend to write mails of about two or three sentences length. They only put the most important information into their mail and don't bother with gossip. The tl;dr-principle is their basis for writing mails.

Two: Structure. Depending on the writer's personal disposition towards structure, paragraphs are used more or less extensively to structure their thoughts. Same goes for lists of bullet points or numbering.

Three: Salutation. I think everybody has a preferred way to salute their friends: "Dear so-and-so", "Hiya","Hi", etc. Note that this can change, but it tends to be constant for a certain amount of time. The salutation can also reflect the relationship between the writer and the addressee.

A last thought: Try to get your friends to write some of the mails for you. That way, each character's mail will have a distinct voice.

  • What do you mean by "mails"? – Nick Bedford Dec 29 '15 at 22:27
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You could use different spellings and punctuation depending on where the email originates from: favor vs favour; and inclusion, or not, of the oxford comma.

Some people write 'try and' instead of the more technically correct 'try to'. Often Americans use an extraneous preposition 'off of' when 'off' alone does the job. A sloppy writer might write 'would of' instead of 'would've'. Many writers use 'there's' as a plural dummy element: 'There's seven people coming for dinner' when 'There are seven people coming for dinner' would be used by the more careful writer.

Although you don't have the space or need to flesh out these characters, you should use their emails to say as much as you can to show their levels of education and the tone of what they're writing. I'd be using every trick in the book to make each one sound unique. The last thing you want is for all the emails to sound as though they were written by you.

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Personally, I think you're overanalyzing. Look at some blog posts, even from this website. The structure tends to be close in all or at least most elements.

There are a few differences that I have found in general:

  1. (My stupid, male brain) notices that women use a lot more exclamation points with interjections. Wow!, Congratulations!, or, Hi there!.

  2. Foreign speakers will often misuse for or to or other prepoositions every once in a while.

  3. Friends will begin to use each other's idioms over time

I imagine other posters will come up with additional ideas. But I think most people, fictional or otherwise, will talk about common interests, plans, gossip, or conflict. If your concern is with the emotional and psychological nuances of the characters compared to their grammar, the reader will get it. What's more, if your grammatical changes were more than subtle, I would be distracted.

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Few readers will notice difference of style between different characters. Perhaps for one or two of them, but not for a dozen. What distinguished people much more than their style is what they want and the kinds of things they are willing to say. One may be kind to a fault while another is cruel. The kindness or cruelty will distinguish them far more than the style with which each is expressed. One person may be after money, another fame, another friendship, another forgiveness. The focus on these things in their correspondence will distinguish them even if they all use similar styles.

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One of the first things I thought of was temperament. Have you given each of these characters a very basic template for their temperament? This also has the added benefit of providing a tangible lead on which to express their backstory through their actions and dialogue.

For example, if one of the characters was a "typically grumpy tough guy who was reluctant but ready to take the lead on things if it came to it", this would greatly influence how you would write his dialogue now that you have placed a general temperament on his character.

He would be loath to express gratitude and humour, for example, and this would be something the other characters wouldn't expect and could joke about in a scene when he did. Some would simply smile and perhaps the reckless, funny guy would throw a line in.

Alternatively, one of the characters might be the "wreckless, funny guy"...

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You could try using different fonts for each character. Serif and sans serif for example. It could indicate a shift of perspective from the writer's voice, to the electronic medium, as well as differentiating between multiple characters.

You wouldn't need to have radical changes, just a slightly different font, maybe a minor shift in point size as well.

In addition to the different written styles of the characters, it could work well.

Maybe include an email header, or 'Written on my iPad' style footer if they aren't going to distract too much.

  • The question is about writing, not about formatting. Ideally, clearly written prose should read unambiguously even in plain text monospaced font without the aid of italics, bold, underlined or colored letters. We are not talking about comic books. – Lew Mar 30 '17 at 17:00
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Key factors for conveying different characters in their written communications (specifically email.)

  • Native language, especially if it's NOT the language of the emails.
  • Cultural identity/political outlook.
  • Education: level and emphasis.

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