Voice separates MEH stories from the ones that grab attention. Voice is the unique way a writer combines words and strings together sentences. It is a story’s personality, its manner of expression. A compelling voice is the difference between “Oh, shucks!” and “Oh, slippery slush!” (Little Red Gliding Hood). Between “Charmaine’s showing off” and “Charmaine’s strutting hard enough to shame a rooster” (The Quickest Kid in Clarksville). And between “Pancake escaped” and “Pancake rappelled down a rope of linguini” (Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast). Examine your story for common language — for example, circle blah verbs and insert something more unique.
Think about how your writing voice has changed since you began writing — then, try writing in the voice of Past You. Growing older, trying new experiences, and learning more about writing can all be factors that influence your voice. For example, you could write a chapter in the style of an elementary school diary entry, or look up an old writing assignment and use it to draft your project.
“Gossip, as usual, was one-third right and two-thirds wrong,” wrote L.M. Montgomery. Improvise a gossipy dialogue between two characters (Character A and Character B) about your protagonist (Character C). If these fractions are followed, what do Character A and Character B get right about your protagonist — and what do they get wrong?
Part of writing great dialogue is ensuring each character has a unique voice. Pretend three of your characters have won the lottery. How does each character reveal the big news to their closest friend? Write out their dialogue with unique word choice, tone, and body language in mind.
The next time you're about to write a long passage of dialogue, show it from the perspective of a stranger watching your characters from afar. The stranger cannot hear what is being said; he can only observe their behaviors, appearances, and actions. You’d be surprised how much you can deduce about two people from just their body language.
Dialogue isn’t exclusive: characters may say the same things, but mean something entirely different in the context of the scene. Pick one of the below famous lines from literature and film. Then start a scene by having a character say it. Develop the scene that follows in 500-600 words and see where it takes your characters.
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
“Made it, Ma! Top of the world!”
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
“Oh, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.”
This is Part I of an exercise that practices voice. Pick up a book written by an author that you admire. Absorb the voice in which they write. Now try writing a page of your own story, but in their voice.
The most important thing about dialogue in any story is that it must sound real. The next time you go outside, discreetly listen in on any conversation between two people (Person A and Person B) for five minutes. Observe everything about the way that they talk. Then go home and "fill in the blanks," using Person A and Person B's cadences and speech patterns to complete the conversation yourself.