An easy way to differentiate characters: the list

I’ve been busy traveling and being sick, but I have not come back empty-handed!  At the Game Developers Conference, one game writer volunteered a very useful way to differentiate character voices.  In most cases, I differentiate character voice by rhythm, sentence length, humor, education, personality, etc.  What’s great about this new method is it makes it easier to communicate and collaborate with another writer.

Ready?  Here it is.  For each character, make a list of vocabulary that only that character would say.  Because no one wants to make an exhaustive list for 70 characters, this list should be about 7-10 words long.  There’s the obvious vocab — like “Cowabunga” for Michaelangelo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I figure it could include other expressions like “not cute” or “that place with the pots” (instead of kitchen).  On one show I worked on, we had an invisible list of how each character addressed their grandmother: “Gram” for one person, “Gran” for another. 

What’s nice about the list is that each word could be representative of a personality trait.  Like “not cute” could indicate someone who’s generally very judgmental.  Or the “that place with the pots” person could be a tragically clever and Blackadder-esque type of guy.  The real challenge might be to find vocab choices that weren’t just examples of traits you’ve already decided on. 

As a frequent collaborator, though, I can see how the list could come in handy.  You can split the characters down the middle and say, “You do the list for those characters, and I’ll do it for these, and we’ll see what we come up with.”

Okay, your turn.  Got any tactics you’ve use to differentiate characters?

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