Listen! Do You Hear Voices, Too?

 When I’m writing dialogue, the hardest part is mastering individual voices. The nearly unachieveable goal is this: No matter who’s delivering a line, I want the reader to know who's speaking without a dialogue tag. 

Every once in a while, I get lucky and distinctive voices flow from the air and through my brain, where my fingertips magically type out the words in such a way that you know who delivered that line. 

Much more often, and often midway through a first draft, half the characters reveal their voices. 

Then there's the third category, the remaining characters. That’s where the work—and especially, the listening—comes into play. Where do I find inspiration? Who and what do I listen to? I have three go-tos. And here are examples of each:

Old Man Golliwop from The Gollywhopper Games

His voice came to me thanks to Dick Van Dyke; specifically, when in The Dick Van Dyke Show, he played Uncle Hezekiah. From that character, I heard Old Man Golliwop's voice. Not only that, Dick Van Dyke's portrayal also colored Old Man G’s movements and mannerisms.

Travis Raines, the main character in The Seventh Level.

Why not borrow from someone you love especially when you’re pretty much the opposite of an ADHD diagnosis and, right there, is the person who embodies it? That's how I saw Travis.

Stav from my current WIP

I had no clue who this character was or what he sounded like. I also had no clue if he even belonged in the story. But then I came across a picture of a cocky athlete, the embodiment of Stav. Now, for the voice. I tuned to videos of athletes and other celebrities who come across as, well, maybe a bit arrogant (I still want you to like Stav) but also self-assured.

Sometimes it's hard, but I keep myself from copying what these characters or people do and say. Instead, stopping, listening and absorbing their attitudes--taking inspiration from them--I hope to bring my characters’ voices alive.


Jody Feldman encourages you to stop and listen to the voices of the characters in books you read and movies you watch. Notice the subtle differences? Maybe the authors and screenwriters also took inspiration from listening.


  1. !! Knowing who's speaking without a tag! THAT'S a challenge. I'm taking this one into my current WIP.


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