Watch Their Language (Part 19)We can add a great deal of personality to a character simply by manipulating their speech patterns. Every aspect of speech is a tool for creating characters. Sentence length, word choice, pauses, sentence complexity, vocabulary, accent, slang, foreign language, passive voice, lexical mistakes, repetitiveness, incoherence, beauty, foul language, turns of phrase, and rhythm are all part of a character’s speech pattern. By giving a character just one or two language traits, the character’s dialog becomes unique.
For example, Bob might prefer short sentences dominated by single-syllable words. He’ll also throw in insults just as a habit. “Put that thing there, idiot. Now. Do it.”
Bob’s girlfriend, on the other hand, is the gabby type. “Did you see what she did to him right then? What did you think of that? I think that she’s full of it. Why did she do that? Because she’s terrible for him, that’s why. He really should dump her. She’s bad for him. What do you think? Should he dump him? I’ll bet yes.”
The reader will soon be able to match the speech pattern to the character.
Your goal in speech patterns is to make dialog un-substitutable. If you give Bob his girlfriend’s dialog lines, the results should read absurdly as speech patterns entwine deeply with character. Speech works best when it comes from the inner psychology of a character.
As you cannot see most characters, like you can in a film, the only clothing that they wear is their speech pattern. Speech is a costume because that is what the reader sees.
The fun thing about speech patterns is that once you assign them to a character, they begin driving the characterization of the character. There is huge power there.