The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


            When writing dialogue, how can you keep your characters from all sounding the same?  If you’re good at this task you can use regional dialects as a distinguishing characteristic, like my friend Wayne Zurl [] does so well in his Sam Jenkins series.  If you do it well enough, and Wayne does, before you know it you have books that will sell well as audiobooks where differences in speech usage and patterns are the essential clue in individuating the characters as you listen to the story.  At least for me, this is hard to do as you need a very nuanced ear and a very good memory for what they said and how they said it to make people sound different based only on word choice.  According to The Guinness Book of Records [] the greatest number of characters given distinct and distinguishable voices by an actor in an audiobook is 224.   This amazing record was accomplished in 2004.

What can the aspiring author do to make their characters different from one another?  If the educational level of the characters varies (college educated P.I. versus high school dropout thug), you have another way to make their voices quite different.  The thug can use a lot of slang and slur his word endings, maybe even say a few bad words here and there.  You can make a character stutter or misuse certain words, or even have an accent.  One of my characters slips a Spanish word into his English every now and then.  The perfect word for Vincent to be overusing for this particular idiosyncrasy is the classic parsley word used promiscuously in conversational Spanish, “claro”.  Vincent could make a chimichurri with all of the claro parsley he sprinkles into his conversation [check out a previous recent post on this blog on “Salsas” if this doesn’t make sense to you, or go directly to the recipe at].

My current WIP, “The Deadly Dog Show”, poses a challenge in this area because there are a lot of characters in the cast.   Y’all will see one of my solutions to this problem in the chapters set in Texas, where regional dialect is easy to transfer to print.  One of my characters, a librarian named Saundra, actually sounds a whole lot different than Vincent does in a long conversation between the two of them in a key scene in the book.  I found the details involved in making this work difficult to create and even more difficult to write consistently from day to day.  I wonder if this comes more easily to authors with musical talent and trained ears?

I haven’t figured out as yet how to give the various dogs at several shows distinctive barks in their voices, but you can’t win them all.  Mostly, I encourage Juliet [the canine heroine of “The Deadly Dog Show] to keep her mouth shut unless she has something really important to say.  As a German Shorthaired Pointer, she would have a pretty deep bass “Woof”.  Maybe I’ll just skip the audiobook market for now.

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