This is the draft of a story I'm writing (I removed the descriptions):

“Sure they allow visitors?” I asked An-Mei as we headed to the pond.

“It's OK,” she said. “It's not solitary confinement, you know.”

“I admit you surprised me,” I said. “Inviting me here. After not seeing each other all this time.”

“Yeah.” An-Mei gazed at the sky with a finger under her chin. “How long had it been? Two years?”

“More or less.”

“Have I changed?”

“Not at all.”

“Neither you,” An-Mei said, inspecting me thoroughly. “You still walk the same way. Head down. Eyes on the ground. Like you've lost all purpose and meaning in life.”

“It's not that bad. I stumble upon a coin once in a while.”

An-Mei grinned. “Idiot.”

“Nice place, uh?” An-Mei said.

“Far better than in the postcards you sent me.”

“So you actually looked at them.”

“Of course. I even replied a few.”

“You did?”

“Uh-huh.” I counted with my fingers. “Four, I think. In the last one I asked you why you decided to join a place like this. You never answered back.”

“Oh, I didn't?”

I gave her a nod.

An-Mei stared into the pond with a grave expression on her face. Then, pursing her lips, she said, “You know, I've been thinking lately about how vast and dark the ocean is. And so full of scary, dangerous creatures. They can eat you alive, or drag you to the bottom. Anytime. When you least expect it.”

“Hey, you know,” I said, pointing to the hiking trail. “I saw someone strange on my way here."

An-Mei raised her eyes. “Someone strange?”

I nodded. “A girl. She was alone. Deep in the forest.”

“Was she staring at an ancient tree?”

“Yeah,” I said, surprised. “How did you know?”

“Be careful,” An-Mei said, ignoring my question. “No matter what, don't get close to her.”

An-Mei is more outspoken and direct. She expects people to confirm what she just said, so she often ends sentences with uh? She also uses more body language and gestures, and talks in metaphors when she's trying to hide pain.

The protagonist is more laid back, but can give quick, thoughtful answers. He's more the passive type.

As you can see both use similar words/expressions like yeah, and you know. Does this make them sound too similar? If that's the case, what can I do to make them sound more different/unique?

  • 2
    If characters come from the same background (like kids going to the same class), they would share much of their verbal behavior. The question is, do you want to show they are different, or do you want to show they are similar? You need to answer that question from the perspective of your plot. I usually don't find that characters sound so very different, and given just one sentence they said I mostly wouldn't be able to identify who said it. Characters differ in the content of their speech. The question is, what is the purpose of this dialogue? The dialogue should reflect this purpose.
    – user5645
    Nov 14, 2013 at 12:06
  • It's confusing to me that An-Mei doesn't know that "he" answered some of her postcards (obviously she didn't receive his answers), but is then surprised that she didn't answer back. If she didn't receive the answers, she cannot have answered back and shouldn't be surprised that she didn't. Only if she got his answers and answered back, can she be surprised that he didn't get those.
    – user5645
    Nov 14, 2013 at 12:09
  • @what Ha, OK that's getting confusing. But what happened is that she got the postcards but didn't want to answer back (she's just evading the topic). Yes, they are childhood friends.
    – wyc
    Nov 14, 2013 at 14:36

1 Answer 1


Characters can use similar verbal expressions if they come from the same backgrounds. Still, even in the case of minor characters, each should have his/her own unique expression or tic to set him/her apart from the others. With minor characters, often this is based on their purpose in the story (A receptionist might be polite, an overworked police officer gruff, etc.).

With major characters, the characters should sound distinct. That's not just because you want readers to easily distinguish them from one but because each character has his/her own motivation and personality. Dialogue is a way to show readers what those motivations/personalities are and to push the plot forward as characters speak to press forward with achieving their goals via their motivations.

By the way, you’ve done a nice job in the above passage of ensuring the dialogue centers on each character attempting to achieve his/her goal.

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