The purpose of this exercise is to see how much you've differentiated each of your main characters' voices from each other.
How to Use
Pick a few major characters in your story. (I recommend using between 3 and 6.) For each of the numbered prompts below, choose what each character would say in that circumstance. You may want to write a few sentences of dialogue from that character or a quick internal monologue.
These lines are meant to generate short pieces of dialogue (about 1-5 sentences), as it's easiest to compare lines to each other that way. If you start writing long paragraphs or another character's reply to your character, then stop. Copy and paste the text. Then place it in a Sta.sh Writer or other document and continue the scene there. If you like it, post it (and credit me for the prompt, if you please!). When you finish that and return to this exercise, write about 1-5 sentences for that character and continue. Link to the expanded version if you'd like.
Here are a few ways you could format replies to each prompt:
Roleplaying (RP) Form
This is much like a script, with the actions in asterisks. It's a favorite among many deviants, especially because it's the most streamlined form.
Rose: Um, excuse me... *scratches back of head* Could you please tell me where the recital hall is?
Loose Script Form
Actions are in italicized parentheses. This is ideal for deviants who are worried about being mislabeled as roleplayers.
Many scriptwriters choose to write the names of speakers in all caps, but I wouldn't recommend it, since your lines are pretty short here. If you have a lot of characters, your readers may get headaches.
Rose: Um, excuse me... (Scratches the back of her head) Could you please tell me where the recital hall is?
I wouldn't recommend using a traditional prose form, as that's too clunky for our purposes.
While it's tempting, try to avoid describing too many actions. Actions are not part of voice, so too many actions may disrupt your concentration when you're reviewing and focusing on voice.
Modifying the Exercise
If you find that a particular of the exercise does not match your world, feel free to edit it to better fit. For example, if your world has no cars in it, then a question about a bird hitting a car windshield could be changed to a bird hitting a window.
You may not be able to modify all questions to fit your world. If this bothers you, you're welcome to mark it with an asterisk and make a footnote to say "This situation is not technically possible given my characters/setting."
Most of the prompts mention other characters. If the unnamed character is acting like one of your characters (whom you're not using for the exercise), then feel free to add that character's name to the prompt. It might also help you envision your characters' responses. For example:
Another character (Ellow) is hosting a party and...
If it might not be the same character for each person, you're also welcome to mention who did the action through the character's response. For example, if I think that Rose's mom might have done a particular action for her, then Rose's response might begin with "Oh, thanks, Mom!"
If you can't imagine any of your other characters doing the action, then assume it's some random person who apparently knows your character.
Without further ado, let's begin!
Please ignore the incorrect usage of the word them. The text became very cumbersome when I typed him/her all the time, so I've lapsed into colloquial diction for smoothness' sake.
This exercise is split into two parts, since it would take a while to do both parts from start to finish (and if you posted them together, virtually no one would take the time to read it all). There are twenty questions; feel free to divide them into smaller pieces if you please.
PART I: HIGHLIGHT THE FOLLOWING You'll see another bold note at the end of the exercise so you can quickly copy and paste.
1. Another character asks your character to come to a birthday or other party... in honor of a person your character doesn't particularly like.
2a. Your character has a big due date coming up soon and is trying to finish their project, but another character keeps coming and bothering them.
2b. Even worse: this character is >not leaving.>
(Note: The italic tags are broken for your convenience. Delete this note upon filling out.)
3. Your character comes home after a bad day to see that one of their friends or relatives made them their favorite food as a surprise.
4. Your character is lost in an unfamiliar city, and it looks like they'll need to ask a pedestrian for help.
(No, they don't have a cell phone or any other method of escaping this.)
5. Your character notices that a friend or relative of theirs is sitting on the stairs, crying.
6. Your character wants to go do something fun, but someone reminds them that they must clean the house... before the guests come over this afternoon.
7a. Your character is walking through a public place when they notice that a creepy-looking man keeps watching them.
7b. A while later, they notice the same man watching them again.
8. Today is another character's birthday, and your character is about to present them with a gift. Your character then reaches into their bag/purse/pocket and discovers that the gift isn't there.
END PART I/START PART II Part I is over—Thank you, and remember to link back!
9. Your character is about to leave the house in the morning when they realize that they are snowed in.
(Snowed in: when there is so much snow covering the ground, you can't even open the door)
10. Another character spills warm coffee all over your character's shirt, then immediately begins apologizing.
11a. Your character has been babysitting two young, hyper siblings for a friend. After many long delays, the children are finally ready for bed and ask to be tucked in.
11b. They also want a goodnight kiss.
12a. Another character recently hosted a party and has leftover cookies (your character's favorite kind). This character notices your character and offers the cookies to them.
12b. A third character notices this and seems disappointed because they haven't gotten any.
13. Your character is alone in a room of someone else's house, and they accidentally knock over a vase of flowers. The vase falls to the floor and shatters. The host/hostess hears the sound and enters the room, immediately noticing the broken glass.
14. Your character is driving (or sitting in the passenger seat) when a bird suddenly hits the windshield with a loud smack.
15. Your character is attending a formal dinner party (of their own free will or not), and a well-dressed and unfamiliar man decides to talk to them about finance.
16. A young child drew a picture for your character and wants to show them.
END PART II Exercise is over—Thank you, and remember to link back!
You're done! Now save the file and open a new tab on the internet. Look at some cool art, comment on your friends' new deviations, or fav bomb my gallery (hint, hint). Then after a while, come back to this exercise and re-read it. Ask yourself the following:
~How different are my characters' reactions?
That's probably something you automatically noticed as you read. Some characters were happy to share the extra cookies, while other characters pretended not to notice the person who wanted some. Some were comfortable with asking a stranger for help, while others avoided the possibility at all costs.
Now look at the nuances of the responses. This will show you the voices.
~How polite were they?
~How casual were they? How elevated was their diction?
~How fluent was their speech? Did they trail off, stammer, or hesitate? How comfortable did they sound in various situations?
~Were their responses typically long or brief? Were they ever unnecessarily so?
~When they were happy, sad, irritated, afraid, etc. how did these emotions manifest themselves in their speech?
~Did they speak very differently in different situations? Did they sound very different among strangers than among friends? (This is especially common in shy people.)
~Did their responses sound abrasive or warm? Could the person(s) whom they were addressing have misinterpreted them easily, or did they make their meaning clear?
Ponder these questions. Type out your answers if it helps.
Now re-read your exercise again, this time covering up characters' names and seeing how accurately you can guess who said what.
~Were you consistently unable to tell two characters' dialogue apart?
If two of your characters sound startlingly similar, don't panic. You still have time to develop them. Map out their similarities and differences on a piece of paper. That can help you if you want to go back and distinguish them from each other more in your story. The questions above can also assist you in developing their unique voices.
And remember: sometimes people simply do sound similar. In some circumstances, my dad and I say would say things that are nearly alike. One of my friends and I have a few of the same mannerisms in speech, which makes some of her habits eerily familiar. Non-eccentric characters especially may sound similar at times, and that's normal.
It's up to you to figure out how distinct each character's voice should be. One fun thing to do can be to run your characters through this exercise when you first create them, and then do it again once you've worked with them for a year or two. You may notice some growth!
Now go have fun.