Crafting dialogue in novels is a hard process. You need to nail down personality, style, tone, and situation. It’s a fine balance of what is said, what is left unsaid, and what is implied.
How can you come up with organic dialogue that’s both unique and artistic, and not lose your mind in the process?
This, my friend, is where voice models will do you excellent favors.
What is a Voice Model?
A voice model is a person (or a group of people) selected by the writer as a pattern for their character’s dialogue.
The concept is not far-fetched, though it’s most often used with appearance models. Have you ever written a character that, in your mind’s eye, looks just like Tom Hiddleston? He might even sound like Tom Hiddleston when you write that character’s dialogue.
But good, organic characters want to have their own identity rather than be carbon copies of some celebrity.
Choosing a different person to be the voice model for your character is a way to avoid this carbon copy problem, especially when you treat dialogue in novels as a question of two layers.
The Two Layers of Voice Models
Okay, so your character looks like Tom Hiddleston. What if he talked more like Sam Elliot? And what if he had the body language of Jude Law?
Word choice and delivery are both huge parts of dialogue in novels. Choosing a different model for each aspect will make your character unique and more interesting.
As an added bonus, if you ever have a hard time picturing any of the above, you can observe your live models for inspiration.
I won’t lie to you, friend, this will be a ton of work. Everything in writing is. The reward is a character that is vividly tangible and audible in your mind—and more importantly, in your readers’ minds.
Creating Voice Models
Follow these basic steps to create your own voice models:
1. Find voices to study
This will actually be the easy part. All you’ll need is a computer and access to a video streaming site like YouTube, Vimeo, etc.
Make a list of all the people you think your character’s voice should sound like. Use real people or film characters as case studies in the ballpark range of the character you are envisioning and listen closely to their every turn of phrase.
2. Make a “filing cabinet” to reference all the little pieces you observed
Create a document where you can “file” your notes.
(I use Evernote because of the ease and accessibility it gives to HTML links and the web-print friendly format.)
In this file, list your model’s relevant speech habits. Try to categorize them according to emotions or subjects, and don’t forget to make notes about content as well as delivery.
For example, if your speech model uses the word “befuddle” as a curse, file it under “anger.” If your delivery model speaks more quietly the angrier he gets, add that to the list.
You can create categories for just about anything, from “Happy” and “Sad” to “Pensive” and “Hungry.”
Make sure you keep this document exclusively for your voice modeling and dialogue building to avoid clutter. In separate categories, save snippets of a real person’s speech or a fictional character’s dialogue in quotations.
Transcribe all the observations you’ve made about your case studies. These notes combined with the emotional categories you select form your proverbial “character parts of speech” as you dictate who this persona is and what their every scene should sound like.
The last bit of the process is up to you. This is where the art comes in. Dialogue crafting is so much more than a list of variable plug-in words. You have to audition for the role of your own character.
The Best Dialogue in Novels is Authentic
Make this process personal. Only you know how you work. In the middle of all this searching for the right voice tempo and range, there’s got to be that little syncopated off-beat that is your voice standing out center stage of it all. You are the Author, and it’s your spark that will take this science and your art and make the most beautiful collaborations.