META: Some Thoughts on Problems in Characterization in Serial Literature

Martin Phipps martinphipps2 at
Fri Aug 10 17:50:27 PDT 2007

On Aug 10, 10:46 am, Jamie Rosen < at> wrote:
> On Aug 9, 8:31 pm, Tom Russell <milos_par... at> wrote:
> > By speech patterns, I refer not to rhythms of spoken speech, but to
> > word choices.  I agree with Martin, though, that people talk
> > differently under different circumstances.
> > I withdraw my generalization about persons not having any speech
> > patterns, while still maintaining that the "unique voice" is,
> > generally, a shallow method of characterization.
> I can agree to that; it seems to me that giving someone a single
> "unique voice" runs counter to the "people speak differently in
> different situations" belief. Each person will have many unique
> voices, and some of them aren't all that different from other people's.

Both are true.  People speak with different accents depending upon
where they come from but it is more than that.  People from different
countries also use different expressions when speaking English.  This
goes beyond Australians saying "G'Day" all the time.  Filipinos tend
to speak English in a way that can almost be considered a different
dialect from standard English and its been documented that the same is
true of people in Singapore and India.  The English used on TV News is
even different from the English spoken on the street.  In fact, this
is probably true of all countries and all languages: the English
spoken on the TV News is different from the English spoken on the
news: this is particularly noticable when you are watching BBC News or
CNN News or even nationally broadcast news (on ABC, NBC, CBS, etc).
The idea is to be understood by as many people as possible.  The
opposite extreme is when two good friends are talking together: no
effort is made to slow down, tone down accents or use standard
vocabulary and expressions; nor are friends likely to pick apart each
other's grammar.  Typical conversations between friends tend to be a
bit choppy with sentence fragments dominating over complete sentences
and context providing most of the meaning: if you overheard a person
saying to her friend "Hey!  Congratulations!" then you don't know if
she got married, got engaged, had a baby, got pregnant, graduated, got
a job, got a promotion. met a new guy or lost her virginity.  It's
because people speak this way in real life that it is so, so easy for
written speech to sound stilted: we want the conversation to convey
information to the reader and yet have it still sound natural.  In
short, people do not typically provide exposition in private
conversations.  A little bit of context does clear things up, however,
but it isn't necessary to go so far as to, say. describe the furniture
in the room.  There's nothing I hate more when reading a story than
unnecessary narrative exposition.  For the record, I've scrapped
entire story ideas in the past because the problem of setting a scene
using dialogue while still making it sound natural could not be


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