Everyone in the world thinks and speaks differently. The differences in our characters come about for a number of reasons such as our brain structure and genetics – but they are expressed in the way that we conceive of things and our choice of phrases and the words we use.
When writing a script, those differences should also be apparent in the dialogue: each character should speak in their own unique voice. One of the signs of poor writing that is easiest to spot is when this isn’t the case and all of the characters sound the same instead.
This tends to happen – partly, at least – because the writer is unable to think of other modes of addressing people than their own. They are unable to conceive of someone else’s way of looking at the world and communicating with it.
So how do you go about resolving this and ensuring that every character in your script speaks in their own way – and therefore realistically? Well, the first trick you can use is, of course, to borrow from the real world!
Think of the people you know in your life and their voices. Consider how each of them might approach a certain scenario differently – preferably a difficult, spontaneous situation that people respond and react to in totally different ways such as missing a train or almost getting run over.
Take some time to actually write these situations out, including the people you know as characters in the scene. If you know them well enough to know they would react, you’ll find that each of them should instinctively have their own voice – giving you the first step you need for creating unique dialogue for fictional characters.
There are a lot of different qualities that allow us to vary dialogue. Another good exercise to create a list of personality traits set up as opposites – introverted/extroverted, witty/boring, straight-laced/maverick – and mark on a scale where each of your characters are between these traits, allowing you to map out how you’d expect them to speak.
Once someone is familiar with your script, it should always be clear to them which character is speaking even if they’re not named. A reader should be able to look at a snippet of dialogue and identify the person who would talk like that.
When this is true, you’ll know that you’ve done a great job as a screenwriter at creating unique voices in dialogue. Not only will your dialogue shine, but you’ll have crafted great characters who express themselves fully and interact with your fictional world as if it were real – just as they should.