Creating a Diction List

During my great quest to differentiate the dialogue of my characters, I’ve consumed a lot of ice cream. This hasn’t really helped with the dialogue but I thought I’d warn you of the side effects of this task. Anywho, one of the things I’ve done has been to create a diction list for each character. To do this, I asked myself some of these questions:

1) How well-educated are they? For example, I have a well-educated character in my WIP who says occurred (instead of happened), perhaps (maybe) and precisely (exactly). She rarely uses contractions and always speaks in full, unbroken sentences. At the same time, I also have several uneducated characters who use a lot of slurred words. So they say dunno (don’t know), coulda (could have), kinda (kind of), lemme (let me), woulda (would have), gonna (going to), lotta (a lot of) and so on. These characters sometimes conjugate their verbs incorrectly and they use slang such as ain’t (are not/is not) and got (have). In the case of my current WIP (where there is a great deal of profanity), every character uses different words when they swear. So one might say something softer like crap while another might pull out the F-bomb in every sentence.

2) How old are they? When referring to certain things, people of different generations use different terms. For example, I will give you a call implies the use of a phone whereas I’ll text you implies someone (possibly younger) who uses a mobile device. Some people say record or CD while others say track or song. Be mindful of this when your characters speak.

3) Where are they from? For example, I have a character who says y’all instead of you and another who says you guys instead of you. If you have a character from a certain area, do some research on the common terms said there and bring them into your character’s diction. Also, take into consideration the type of habitat they come from. A farmer might compare a screeching noise to a rooster while a city person would be more likely to compare it to a subway.

4) Do they speak slowly or quickly? I have some characters who abbreviate many of their words. For example, of course (‘course), between (‘tween). I also have characters who trail off their sentences a lot as well as characters who speak almost incoherently (going on tangents within tangents).

5) What are their common words? Every person overuses certain words or expressions and these should differ for each character. Some of these include: that, okay, just, like, totally, then.

The great thing about making a diction list for each character is that, if you’ve tagged their dialogue as per my previous post, you can very easily scan each character’s word choice or do a Find & Replace across their entire style.

If you have found any other methods that you use to differentiate your characters’ dialogue, I’d love to see them! If not, I will happily accept photos of ice cream.

Category: On Writing