I'm writing a story and it is really hard to avoid putting my own speech patterns into my stories. Especially for the mean and dark types. My character is a deceiving, mischievous leader. He plays poker a lot and cheats at games (or bends the rules). I always end up making the characters sound like me and before I know it, stray off the storyline I wanted it to be.

8 Answers 8


I can't tell you what to write for the character's speech patterns, but I can say that the best way to learn how to write a character's voice that isn't your own is to think like that character would, so you write like that character would. Also, when you have multiple characters, it's always a good idea to get a good description in your mind of each character as an individual so, before you type something a character would say, you can think: would he actually say this?

I usually write down a brief description of each character so I have it to reference whenever I need to.

Hope this helps.

This article provides some other useful tips. So does this one.

  1. Read other novels. They have dialog examples.

  2. Observe people. They have dialog examples.

  3. Understand your character. Imagine you are that person. Try to speak how that person would speak. Act it out at home, like an actor learning a role. Every time you write what that character would say take the time to get into that person and then speak from the state of being that person.


Here's a bit of advice a friend gave me: Try writing your main character as someone completely different from you. So my first story was told in the voice of a 25-year old woman who works in a convenience store. (I was, at that time, a 40-something man who worked at a university.)

Still, my main characters usually start off as me. (She did too, in voice and temperament.) Through revision and the critique of my readers (Do you have readers?) characters become less me and more who they are.

Trust the process. Just write your first draft, then tweak your characters as you rewrite and revise. And get some readers that you trust.


Start speaking like the character every time you would write his dialog. Act while you write. Mimic his way of moving his body, the way which he speaks, the faces he does.

This will provide you a lot of immersion while you are writing, it will not only boost your productivity and quality but will also make the experience of writing more fun.

Most of the time, I write most of the speeches of my characters just after my bath - where I spend a bit of time enacting them, just for fun, to get a feel about how they would feel and sound in real life.

Sometimes, taking acting classes (or even just playing make-believe with your kids, if you have them) can really boost your writing!


The main thing that distinguishes the speech of different characters is what they say, not how they say it. If you understand the motives and the fears of every characters in your scene, and if you make sure that every word they speak proceeds from their fears and desires, then their speech will seem distinct and authentic. Only Fred would say that is fundamentally more distinguishing than only Fred would say it like that.

Secondly, remember that fictional dialogue is not like regular speech. Regular speech relies on a bunch of clues and cues that are not present on the page. The words themselves therefore have to do more of the work. Some authors do attempt to record all of the clues and cues of real speech but it does not usually work well because the way we receive and interpret such clues and cues in everyday life is largely subconscious. An actor has access to the communication channel, an author of prose does not.

Third, remember that regular speech is often disorganized and hard to follow because people don't always express themselves well or think through what they want to say. Reproducing all of this in fiction is usually tedious. The point of most dialogue is not to paint a portrait of human speech as it is in the wild but to advance the plot of the story, to reveal motivation or conflict, or to pass information. Reproducing the chaos and hesitancy of real speech would simply get in the way of the job you need the dialogue to do.

Finally, in real life, most people who converse on a regular basis have very similar patterns of speech. We are social and tribal animals with a natural tendency to imitate each other as a sign or our willingness to fit in with the group. (You can observe this behavior very easily in children, especially around three to five, when imitative play and mimicry of speech and action is a huge part of their daily activities.) Where authors do reach for different speech patterns in fiction, therefore, is when the introduce a stranger into the mix. The difference in speech patterns is a way of emphasising their otherness.

Thus fictional dialogue is an artifice that is often very different in sound and in purpose from ordinary human speech. For the most part, therefore, you distinguish characters more by what they say than by how they say it, you tidy up the untidiness of human diction, and you say more in words and less in actions than occurs in real human speech.


It seems like you are not a "mean and dark type." Then you have to base those characters on people who are, instead of having them sound like you.

One way is to pattern those characters on a friend, or more likely an acquaintance, that fits the bill. Almost everyone knows someone like "Eddie Haskell" from "Leave it to Beaver," the smiling, pleasant teenager up front, who has a dark side that delights in making people misunderstand each other.

If you don't know such people in real life, you may have to compensate by finding such people in fiction, and getting to know them as well as you can. You might start with the characters in the "Godfather."


Before you start writing any story, form the key characters and situations in your head (or on a sheet of paper). For each key character, list down their characteristics, backgrounds, and other details you would like to communicate to your reader in written or non-written manner.

The details that you write down, like the age and look are simple to communicate. The character's characteristics like honesty will be reflected from the way he/she reacts to different situations. Finally, the background of the character or the origin, will have an impact not only on how the character reacts to different situations but also how he/she speaks. Like a college going student is going to speak differently than a retired service-man. However, there will be certain similarities if they come from the same family - we often catch a lot of mannerisms and words (or speaking manners) from our elders.

The best way to practice this is to observe people. Whenever you are in a public place, keep your ears and eyes open. Listen to people or just observe them from a distance (I don't mean offensive staring or stalking, in any way). Slowly, they will start becoming characters in your head and then give them all voices, a background and other details. Have them converse. It helps.

Good Luck!!


Dialogue a very difficult subject for a 'typical' writer. Dialogue needs to heard and cannot really be learned from a book. And unless you've a diverse group of friends you've no source material.

  • Firstly, you probably need to unlearn everything you've learned about grammar and prose. (If MS Word doesn't put green lines under my dialogue I revisit it). Real people repeat words and phrases and have generally poor grammar.

  • Unless your story uses diverse characters they'll all sound the same. If your story features five teens from Alabama - they will all sound the same.

  • Be mindful of your target audience. The reader has to possess 'decoding' information i.e have knowledge of what type of people speak that way. With the target reader the dialogue can do 'everything'. There's no need for separate 'scene-setting' or 'characterisation'.

Kelly joined her friends at the canteen table. "Wassup, bitches!" she said, setting down her tray.

Scene is set: you have a good idea who these people are and where these people are.

  • Culture.

Different cultures and locales speak different ways, using different words to describe the same thing.

  • Age

Language changes with generations.

"Respectable young ladies should wear a frock when they attend church," said the minister.

  • Thinking as write - it's pretty much everything. Sex: girls are unlikely to use sports metaphors. Profanities: some will use them, some won't.

Characterisation dictates dialogue, dialogue drives characterisation. Temperament is also a factor.

When you get it right . . . the latter part of your story needs very few dialogue tags because the words could only come from one character.

Debra Morgan from the Dexter series said the F-word over 100 times in the first eight season. There were some very exclusive combinations

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