Sorry for the grammar wonk of the title, but I had to get across the entire concept of the thread in a limited number of characters. But on to the topic!
There's a common problem I see a lot of writers struggling with—both among the people I know who like to write, and sometimes in published works too. It's the fact that all their characters "sound the same." All of their dialogue reads very similarly, giving the characters very similar "voices" and making them hard to tell apart. This is generally something you want to avoid, right? After all, the way people talk is important to their characterization, and the way a character talk says a lot about them. On a more mundane and technical level, it helps your reader identify who is speaking in conversation-heavy scenes without having to rely on dialogue tags to figure everything out. But, for one reason or another, this is something I've seen a lot of people struggle with.
My first question (or topic of discussion, as it were): What makes this so difficult for people?
I imagine there are different reasons for different people, and I sort of want to explore those in general. I'm not certain, but if I were to hazard a guess, I'd theorize that one of the main reasons is because writing dialogue sort of means you have to change your natural writing style. When you're writing prose, especially third-person prose, you're using your "own" voice. That's the voice that's most natural for you to adopt when writing. But when you write dialogue for other characters, you're forced to adopt a different tone of voice that doesn't necessarily belong to you in the same way. If you don't stop to consider that, you'll keep writing characters' dialogue in the same voice you use for yourself, the author and narrator—thus making all the characters sound similar. But that's only a theory, and I'm curious as to what other authors think about their reasons for this and their struggles with this, if they have any.
As for alleviating the problem... I have a method for it, and if what my betas tell me is true, it gets great results for me, but I don't honestly know if it'd work for anybody else. Basically, I assign each character a specific "voice" in my head. Like, a voice-actor kind of voice. Sometimes I'll use well-known actor's voices if they're commonly associated with a character type similar to the one I'm writing (like Patrick Warburton
for a manly, Dumb Muscle
type), sometimes I'll just use the voices of people I know (one character from my current project has a "voice" based on several girls I knew in middle school), and sometimes I'll just make a voice up. And as I'm writing the character's dialogue, I'll picture all the dialogue being said in that voice, and I see if it "sounds right." It works amazingly well for me—I can "hear" a lot of the dialogue perfectly, and can usually tweak it to sound right. But then again, I'm the sort of author who just writes the thing
to begin with, and I don't know how well these sorts of character-motivated writing styes work for everyone.
One thing I do know, though, is that this shows up with depressing frequency in published works. Maybe it's just some kind of noticing bias, but it seems to occur frequently enough that I'm always impressed or pleasantly surprised when I see a book that does manage to have nicely different-sounding characters. But then again, maybe I'm recognizing it just because I appreciate a solidly-told story, and it's not about how frequently or infrequently it appears. Or maybe I've read too many subpar books recently. Who knows.
Your thoughts, fellows?