Find Your Character’s Voice & Listen to Your Character’s Voice

When you find your character’s voice, you’ll begin to know how you want your character to act, speak, sound, talk, react, dream, and so much more.

Think about this:

When you hear a story character say: “Howdy, pardoner. What cha’ doin’ in these here parts?”

From the way this character talks, what do you think you know about this character? What might this character be wearing? In what part of the USA might this character live or work? Do you have an idea about the work this character does for a living? Give the character a name. WHEW!

Let’s try to begin understanding another character from the way they talk: “Alas, thou dost besmirch my honor with your loathsome regard for my command.”

No way am I, Professor Tonio, gonna repeat the questions I asked you to answer above. Sooooo, answer those questions about this “Alas, thou dost…” character. And give HIM or HER a name. [What fun, thinks Professor Tonio.]

Hey, ho, I made up another character for you to think about~~ but are you still thinking? Sure hope so.

This character says, “Eye shore do wont ta speak ma mind to that feller.”

That’s right. Answer those same questions and give the “Eye shore” character a name.

Ready to hear another character? Good. ‘Cause this one is from a story I wrote. The minute this character came into my mind, my life, my story, I named him Keeper of the Forest. At once, he talked like this:

“Ah, ah. Destiny, Destiny,” Keeper cried. “Oh, har favor not so easily gained dah. Mortal upon mortal have passed thees way desperate for Destiny’s cure,” continued Keeper. “Just as many have returned more, oooh, more and more wretched than when they set out tah. Crestfallen wahr they for having failed to receive Destiny’s guidance to change the course of thar tormented lives sah.”

I wanted Keeper of the Forest to have a drawl, to speak in a slow, lazy way with prolonged vowel sounds. His way of talking seemed so right for the kind of character I made him become? What kind of character is he? Ah, you need to read the story to find out about him and all the other characters that live in my story.  My story is called Loukas and the Game of Chance, and it will be published in 2019. Stay tuned.

Here you go again. Answer those same questions. You already know the name.

Another character speaks. Actually, two characters speak. A father and his son. The author of the story is Neil Gaiman. You may know him as the author of Coraline ( Graveyard Book ( and The Sandman series of graphic novels.

You say you never heard of these books? If you like strange, weird, mysterious, frightening happenings, you’ll love Mr. Gaiman’s stories.

Alright, back to a character’s voice. The characters speaking here are in Gaiman’s novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane (

“Dad? Where’s the car?”

“In the drive.”

“No, it isn’t.”


Pretty ordinary, right? I mean, the way these two characters talk sounds like so many people—fathers and sons—you may know. Except that there’s so much to think about—so much suspense—in so few words. Answer the same questions. Remember? From the way these characters talk, what do you think you know about them? What might these characters be wearing? In what part of the USA might these characters live or work? Do you have an idea about the work this character does for a living? Give the character a name. WHEW!

Go ahead now: Get together with a friend and have a conversation about how the two of you answered the questions.

That’s enough, Professor Granpa Tonio! Gotta life? Gotta go.


The way a character handles disappointment reveals a great deal about what is important to him or her.

Write a story or a short scene or simply write down some notes that show what happens when your character faces a disappointment. How does she or he act? What does he or she say? Ah, yes: How does your character speak?

My grandfatherly advice: Make sure you store your writing in—TAH DAH—your WRITER’S NOTEBOOK. What’s that? On my website, there’s a blog titled “Tween and Teen Writing Tips.” That’s where I introduce a writer’s notebook.


Calling all teachers, parents, advocates. Do you want to encourage your readers and writers to create characters who have a distinct way of speaking? Search dialect in children’s literature and dialect in literature. Wow! You’ll find a lot there.

You’ll find useful examples like these:

This list provides examples of children’s books on dialect variation.

And for high school readers and writers:

Happy Reading.

Happy Writing.

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It’s all happening at Professor Granpa Tonio’s website:

Kids, teachers, parents, grandparents, partners~~oh, that’s anyone who’s wild about books for kids, tweens, teens, and beyond. Come on over and hang out. You’ll find a very special place for watching funny videos, acting out stories with friends, writing like a pro, making story art, going deep inside different kinds of literature with really cool questions and reading guides. See you there. Don’t forget to tell me what you’re reading and writing these days. And, hey, be sure to leave your comments and suggestions and interests about—you got it—reading and writing.