Learning the voice of a character is something that will take a lot of time. If you listen to people around you, everyone has different ways of speaking. You need to take into account word choices, tone, and accents.
Think about the people you know in your own life. You probably have someone who almost always uses contractions when they speak. A friend who refuses to curse. Some people have common phrases that come up a lot. My roommate starts 90% of his sentences with, “Oh yeah”. “Oh yeah, did you need your phone charger?” “Oh yeah, you left your tea in the living room.” I have a friend who, instead of saying goodbye always says “Make good choices”.
You’ll find people say “yep”, and other people say, “yeah” and other people say “yes”. Some people say “Hello”, “hey”, “howdy”, “hey there”, “hi”. There’s “okay”, “okedoke”, “alrighty”, “mkay”.
Take note of how each character individually speaks. Often, you’ll find families tend to sound relatively similar. Children learn to speak from their parents. In modern times, a lot of children pick up on how to speak from the television, so they might sound similar to their favorite tv show character. Also keep in mind, you don’t have to justify WHY you’re character sounds a certain way. Your readers don’t need explanations, but you should have some idea where their language came from.
The words a person uses is also influenced by their education. A young, unwealthy girl in a rural community shouldn’t be using very sophisticated words, while the CEO of a major company in an urban setting shouldn’t be speaking slang. It also is depending on who they are speaking to. It’s typical to hear a mother say, “Baby want more yum-yum?” to her toddler, and then turn to her husband and talk about the complex work she finished at her physics lab that morning.
I mumble. More than half the things I say go unheard by the people right next to me. My boyfriend, however, has an incredibly loud voice. If I were a character in your novel, you’d probably end my dialogues with: she muttered, she mumbled, she said to herself. If my boyfriend was a character, it would probably be more of: he boomed, he called. Characters often use specific tones that fit their personalities.
Where are they from? Don’t just put an accent on a character to create a different voice, you don’t need it. If you do have a character from a certain part of the world, you’ll want to fit that accent to them. Some words are specific to regions as well: “mate” “rubbish”
Sometimes, you can type an accent. “Don’ ya think ya’ve had enough fer tanight?” “Let’s go see zee ‘ouses.” “Ist fery ‘ard to zee zat picture”.
When you write in accents, you need to know the language well enough to portray it, as well as being able to get the point across of what your reader is trying to say.
How to Improve:
Take a notepad with you places, and eavesdrop on conversations. Listen to how people say things, not what they’re saying. Another exercise could be asking stranger the same question.
“Do you know how to get to the 1 train from here?”
You’ll probably get similar answers, but they’ll all sound different. “Right up that way.” “Straight ahead.” “Just keep going, man.” You might also get people saying they don’t know. “Not sure, sorry.” “No clue.” “I think I saw one not far back.” “You should ask a police officer or something.” “I’m not from ‘round here, sorry.”
Best of luck and happy writing,