META: Some Thoughts on Problems in Characterization in Serial Literature

Martin Phipps martinphipps2 at
Thu Aug 9 02:14:58 PDT 2007

On Aug 9, 4:04 pm, Tom Russell <milos_par... at> wrote:

> The second problem with the speech pattern fallacy is that, to be
> frank, in my personal experience, most people don't have "speech
> patterns".  

Yes they do, Tom, yes they do, and not only do different people talk
different ways (going beyond their accent or their vocabulary but also
their choice of grammar and overall tone of voice) but individual
people talk differently under different circumstances.  Research (and
I'm thinking in particular of research I read about in the book
_Communication in the Language Classroom_) has shown that people
instinctively speak differently depending upon whether or not they are
speaking to adults or children or to native or non-native speakers of
their own language.  (You may have noticed people using higher pitches
and using simpler "baby" words and euphanisms when speaking to
children or speaking more loudly, more slowly and with relatively
simplified grammar with non-native speakers.)  In research, this is
called "pragmatic speech", ie the tendency to speak in a certain way
under different circumstances.  Sometimes good friends will share
information (eg "in jokes") that they will refer to and only they know
what they are talking about.  Reseachers estimate that 90% of meaning
is contextual and that we would be hard pressed to understand an
overheard conversation without knowing what the contect is.  Of
course, in a story a writer has to provide that context but it doesn't
take much and it is usually possible to establish context simply by
making sure that you present the entire conversatation as opposed to
simply snipets.

Anyway, the point is that people DO display speech patterns and it is
a basic part of human communication and it should be something that
you are aware of when you are writing dialogue.


More information about the racc mailing list