How to write like someone you’re not – and still sound authentic

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This might be a little too obvious. [Photo by Emil]

 As a copywriter, I might be selling waterproof work boots to truckers one day, and giving makeup tips to fashionistas another. Maybe both in the same day. But if I’m not familiar with my audience, I have to get familiar before I write anything. You may have the same problem.

Say you’re writing about a character who is wildly unlike yourself. Maybe they’re an extreme version of some part of yourself (as all characters tend to be), but their background and lifestyle demands a manner of speaking completely different from anything you know. How do you master a voice that’s not your own?

Start by writing down everything you know about the character whose voice you need to create. Personality traits, occupation, hobbies. Then, prepare to research. You must immerse yourself in the voice you seek to emulate, much like living in a different country to learn the language. Here’s how:

 

Online communities

My number one resource for getting into the heads of my audience is the Internet. You can find a blog or forum for just about any group of people – I have stumbled across communities for everything from anorexics to Satanists, to Jews who love bacon (those all purely by accident). Look up social websites centered around your narrator’s profession, hobbies, even medical or psychological conditions. Do this by Googling your subject with words like blog, forum, community, online support group, tips, terminology, handbook, dictionary (i.e. “spoon-collector’s forum” etc.). Take it a step further by asking yourself what products your character would buy, then find the Facebook page of a company that sells said product, and read the fan comments. Google the definitions of terms you don’t know. Bookmark the sites you find and reference them frequently.

Books

Probably the most obvious way to familiarize yourself with a voice is to find a book narrated by a character who is like yours, or at least one that has a lot of dialogue by a character like yours. Type out a few pages of the narrative/dialogue to help give your fingers and your brain a feel for the flow of the language. Reach outside fiction, too – read the memoir of a real person who is similar to your character. If you’re writing period fiction, read something that was actually written during the time period in question.

 

Movies & TV

Can’t think of a book that has your character type? Try thinking of a movie or TV show that does. Find some quotes from that character on IMDB – and again, type them out to get a feel for the voice.

 

People watching / eavesdropping

Find a public place where you’re likely to find the type of people you’re writing about. If you’re writing about a college student, hang out in a coffee shop by the closest college campus. If you’re writing about a factory worker, eat lunch at a diner close to a factory, or check out a nearby bar at happy hour. If you’re writing about children, offer to baby-sit your sister’s kids, or hang out at the playground of your local park (just bring a friend with you so people don’t think you’re a creeper). Shop at stores your character is likely to shop at. Visit a church or synagogue they might frequent. Listen to snippets of conversation around you, and surreptitiously write them in a notebook.

 

Where do you find the voices of your characters? Tell me in the comments!

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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16 Comments

  1. Nice list.
    Personally I tend to stick with the first and last one because I’m always a little hesitant reaching for fictional characters from my favourites because there’s this constant paranoia that too much will bleed through and kill the originality of what I’m creating.
    Though undoubtedly my mind and imagination are influenced in varying degrees by whatever I’ve “imbibed”, I suppose I’m hesitant to have too conscious an influence.

    • Thanks! There’s certainly a need to make a character your own, but it helps to see what others have done. They say nothing is truly creative – everything is derivative (or, there is nothing new under the sun). Perhaps it’s best simply to draw from several sources for a character, rather than just one. Let them all stew up inside you and come out fresh.

      • All true and all has crossed my mind at some point or other… it’s a conundrum for story-telling if you ask me.
        I like to try and find an original voice, a different kind of story, something that grabs one.
        Of course if one doesn’t mind (or is unaware of) repeating tropes and cliches and to simply be entertaining, then it matters little! 😀

  2. Really good ideas – thank you!

  3. I listen to people a lot too. I think that I pickup more from movies than I probably should. I’m not usually sure where the style of speaking comes from when I write. Good character development does a great deal of the work for me. Although I think that I enjoy getting into most of my characters so much that it’s more like playacting which I did enjoy a long time ago. I’ve always thought that was part of enjoying a good book too when you can experience different things through a character.

  4. All excellent advice, as usual. I am currently grubbing for a narrator voice rather than a character’s voice, though perhaps I can stumble upon character-voice hints in my searching anyway. It’s hard to chase down the ghost of mood.

  5. I wish you had published this a year ago! Haha! I had to write a monolgue for coursework using a vioce entirly different to my own, this would have helped so much! A great list, will bare it all in mind when I’m next writing, thank you!

  6. Pingback: How to write in an other-worldly voice « BeKindRewrite

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