Posted by: Jess Riley | August 22, 2008

Character Voice

Your character has a voice. Everyone does. I don’t just mean that they literally are capable of speech; that’s a given. What I mean is that everyone’s character is going to sound different, phrase things differently, construct sentences differently.
One of the main ways that people try to get this across in roleplay is accents. That’s not a bad way of doing it, but there are some points to consider here. One is that it’s sometimes just hard to accurately write an accent down without running the risk of either giving the wrong impression (‘Dwarfish’ coming across as ‘uneducated’ or ‘drunk’, for example), just plain getting it wrong (a French-inspired accent coming across more Transylvanian), or becoming impossible to read without knowing ahead of time what is being said (is ‘ha” ‘have’, or is it ‘half’?).

That’s not even to mention that not everyone is going to have a writable accent, and there are a wealth of other speech mannerisms other than accents. When written down, how do you distinguish between Proper Common As A Second Language and Pompous Enunciated Common? When an Undead is speaking Gutterspeak, are they going to have the same speech mannerisms as when they speak Orcish?
The voice of a character is a quick easy way to get across something about the nature of the character and the manner in which they communicate. A few ways to make a point about their ‘voice’ are:

  • Contractions. Do they use them? Do they abuse them? Do they avoid them at all costs? Making heavy use of contractions gives a more colloquial feel, while avoiding contractions can imply either pompousness, eloquence or inexperience with the language. Consider how many ESL people avoid using contractions and speak more ‘proper’ English than most native speakers, and consider the difference between mates at the pub and lawyers in court. Note the difference between:

“Are you goin’ to the carnival? Joe isn’t.”

“You gonna go t’the carny? Joey ain’t.”

“Are you going to the carnival? Joseph is not.”

  • Word Choice. A character who makes use of larger, more unusual words could be more educated, more pompous and bombastic, or more formal than someone who uses shorter, more common words. Heavier use of slang implies colloquial speech, while jargon implies professionalism or interest in a specialist area. Again, note that in a classroom or in a courtroom, people choose their words more carefully and speak differently to people having drinks after work. A mechanic will talk about engineering in much different terms than a layman.
  • Language Choice. Can your Blood Elf even speak Orcish? Can your Draenei speak Common? Can they understand it spoken to them, but cannot speak it themselves – or vice versa? How proficient are they in languages other than their native one? When someone is learning a second language, they typically show different levels of proficiency in understanding spoken words, reading and speaking it themselves. Drawing on my own experience, I can read a little Japanese (hiragana and katakana, not much kanji) and can more or less understand bits when spoken to me, but I’m not a remotely fluent speaker. Keep in mind here, too, that they would have quite different patterns of speech when speaking in different languages – I speak terribly colloquial English, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, but when I do speak Japanese it’s very stilted and formal, because this is the way most people learn a second language. The same applies in Azeroth.
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