I love reading books. And I love watching how the characters talk. Oftentimes you can learn a lot about them just from their speech patterns.
An example would be two characters talking to each other. The trouble is if the author isn’t careful, they could wind up sounding alike.
If you really listen to people speak to one another, they rarely use grammatically correct sentences. Cops are terrible about that, and some of the bad guys are worse.
Cops for instance, especially when talking on the radio have a weird shorthand speech. It’s the minimum amount of words to get the maximum amount of information across. Toss in a 10 Code, and Grammarly goes into orbit over it. They speak with incomplete sentences, couldn’t care less about double negatives, and the like. Grammarly may complain that it’s an incomplete sentence and you, the writer, will need to make a decision. Do you want realism or a correct sentence. Or you may opt to rewrite it so it adheres to both standards.
It’s also rare for an officer to talk for an extended amount of time on the radio. The reason is simple. Other people might need it. Also, most police officers come from a military background, and keeping communications short is drilled into us.
You can also catch education levels and even personality by speech patterns. Will, RJ, and Pam all have college educations. That reflects in their speech.
Will took his degree in the hard sciences and can speak with greater technical ease than others. Will is also an ex-soldier and tends to talk in military terms as well. It would be safe to say he has two different voices. At home, or around people he’s comfortable with, he tends to be more relaxed in his speech patterns, will use contractions, and the like. In public, he has a police voice that tends to be very clear and precise. He does tailor what he has to say depending on who he’s talking to. If that’s a fairly uneducated person, he tends to speak in simpler terms, and takes his time. Among police officers or fellow warriors, he’ll let an occasional “shit” or “damn” through, but that’s as bad as his swearing ever gets. He’s embarrassed by that, but when it does come out, it means the situation warranted it.
When you listen to RJ speak, you hear less of a Valley accent, and almost more a European accent. He speaks almost letter perfect English, but is also a little more street and hip then Will is. He earned his degree in Teaching and is a Spanish teacher by trade. He is often the translator on the team. He translates for those officers who have a very small command of the Spanish language (like Will). In situations where the victim or perpetrator don’t speak English, Will often times let him take the case and run with it. When he speaks Spanish, it’s correct textbook Spanish, the kind they speak in Spain. He has to make a conscious decision to speak the local version which often times uses words for one thing that would mean something else in Spain. Like Will, he rarely swears.
Pam took her degree in Law Enforcement and is all cop in her radio talk. Being an ex-Marine (I know, once a Marine, always a Marine), she also talks in military terms. She can have a commanding tone of voice when needed, but among friends is more laid back in her speech patterns. Despite being a cop and former Marine, she never swears. This is part of her upbringing and religious background that shows through. The closest she gets is an occasional “Blast” or “What the heck.”
One thing cops do is talk in what we call “10 Code” and they use the phonetic alphabet. Even here, there’s differences. While the 10 Code is fairly universal, some pieces of it might mean different things depending on the state you’re in. For example, 10-4 almost always mean acknowledged, but it may mean something else at a different department. If you want realism, you might need to pay attention to that.
Will and Pam, both being ex-military, tend to use the military phonetic alphabet. So for instance, if they make a traffic stop, and the license plate on the car is WS-1, they’d call it in as “Whiskey Sierra one.” RJ would call it in as “William Sam one” which is the traditional phonetic alphabet for Civilian Police in Colorado.
Speech also tends to evolve over time. In the first book, Will has been away from the Valley for a long time. Eventually, some of the idioms start to creep into his speech. One that evolves is almost a running joke between him and RJ. RJ has a habit of finishing a statement with “Que no?” It’s not exactly a proper translation, but he’s meaning it as “You know.” Will starts acknowledging it with “Que no.” Again, improper Spanish, but it’s the norm for the area.
Jewell isn’t a cop, and never spent a day in the military. That said, she has picked up a knack for talking in acronyms, especially with the police. When they’re sitting around talking and she’s in her counselor role, acronyms buzz around like bees. She’s picked them up, which is good, but if one is used she doesn’t know, she may stop the speaker and ask.
Which brings me to an important point in writing. If you’re using an acronym, you might want to spell out what it is, and maybe what it’s supposed to do, especially if you’re talking about a device or such. An example might be “NASA.” Now in theory, everyone knows what NASA is, but to someone else, it might not mean anything. You might want to write, “He flew the LEM (the Lunar Excursion Module – the spider like spacecraft used in the Apollo program that landed on the Moon).” No doubt what the LEM does.
Part of something I try to avoid is having everyone sound like college graduates because they aren’t. Often times I have a highly intelligent person using the wrong word choice, double negatives, and the like but it works. Their speech may or may not be streamlined, and will reflect where they learned it.
Eva, a civilian character, learned to speak English in a German School. We see fewer contractions in her sentences, no slang, and she has a very precise way of talking. It would be safe to say, she speaks English better than most Americans, and when she talks, you can almost hear the commas and periods.
Paying attention to speech patterns can make a character stand out more. It adds depth to them and add to their character and appeal. It also helps define the environment they’re in (among friends or wherever).