Character Voice and Speech Tags

Question: I was told recently by someone who read a draft of my story that they had trouble distinguishing which character was talking when there were no he/she said tags.

How can I give each of my characters their own unique voice?

Answer: A lot of factors go into a character's voice. Culture plays a role, and can include such factors as education level, where they grew up, what socio-economic or ethnic group they belong to, age, etc. All these will have an impact on their vocabulary, dialect, and use of slang.

A character's personality traits also play a role, such as confidence, how they view their status compared to who they are talking to, the relationship etc. (People talk differently to their mother than to their child, boss, spouse, servant, etc.)

Also, you might have a look at whether you are using speech tags often enough. If there are only two characters in a conversation, you can omit some of the "he said"s, but not all of them. Readers need to be reminded now and then who is speaking or they will get confused. If there are more than two characters involved in a conversation, speech tags become even more important for keeping things straight.

You can omit speech tags sometimes, for variety, if you use action to indicate the speaker. For instance...

John squinted at the sign. "Do not walk on the grasp?" He turned to his companion. "Someone needs a proofreader."

But clarity is important. "He said" usually feels more repetitious to the writer, who has to type it so often, than it does to the reader.

Comments for Character Voice and Speech Tags

Click here to add your own comments

Apr 06, 2012
Thank you
by: Anonymous

Thanks for your help!

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Character Invite.

 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook

NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles

"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards

"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero