Select Page

After our last month’s post on protagonists, we had someone write in with this astute observation:

“If you think about it, the strength and ‘flavor’ of all characters you create is in the dialogue… Perhaps the criticism I have heard most among playwrights in our group is ‘Your characters all sound the same.’ or ‘Your characters all sound like you.’ So maybe you have some exercises to give each character their own voice.”

It’s true: making your characters sound different can be challenging. After all, they’re all coming from the same brain (yours), so it makes sense that they would naturally all sound like you.

But how can you fight back against that tendency?

One of my absolute favorite techniques here is to imagine that character as a specific person or actor. This can work really well when that person has a distinctive voice, like Jack Nicholson. It also tends to work well when it’s someone you know very well (like a friend, parent, sibling, etc.), because you’re very familiar with the eccentricities of their voice.

If you can imagine your character speaking their lines in that person’s voice, it will go a long way in differentiating those voices in your head–which is what you need to do in order to differentiate them on the page.

If you have the luxury (or the ability) to have a couple actors do a table-read, that can help as well. The more you can put a face to each character’s name, the more they can start to feel like real, unique people in your mind.

Varying the character’s speech patterns can be helpful–for instance, maybe a nervous character speaks in all run-on sentences, while a self-conscious character ends declarative sentences like a question. Don’t go too overboard with this, though, or your characters can start to sound like caricatures.

I would be careful about specifying accents. Insisting on a British accent when there’s no real need or benefit to the character being British could just serve to limit your casting options.

Also think about how the character BEHAVES. An aggressive character might be more likely to interrupt and cut people off, while a more polite character might hold their tongue and be patient. That kind of behavior can also help contribute to the way each character is perceived.

Finally, keep in mind that a character’s overall impression is made up of more than just the actual words they speak. Their behavior plays a huge role as well.

For instance, if two characters are in danger, and one becomes afraid while the other becomes bold…they are naturally going to sound very different from one another, even if their speech patterns aren’t all that different.

This kind of character differentiation is powerful because it goes beyond surface-level dialogue and gets to the heart of who these characters are as people.

The PSH course goes into character at length. It’s available to members here: