Character and Voice: When the Two Don’t Match

microphoneLast night we watched an old episode of Bones.  They were trying to solve the murder of a body builder who had been partying on the Jersey shore.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the show, the main character, Bones, is a forensic anthropologist who is brilliant but beyond literal. Because of this, she and the real world often don’t see eye-to-eye.

To solve this particular mystery she and her partner had to question “Guidos” and she had been watching a documentary to learn about their vernacular and customs.  Fascinated by the Guido tribe, she dove right in to participant observation mode, interacting with them as one of their own.  She used their phrases, “Yo, bro!”  and “Oh, no!” in particular complete with the correct body language.

The problem was that back in the lab she would sometimes pop off with one of these phrases.  It may have been a perfect fit on the Shore but back in the high-tech world of the Jeffersonian, it was a bad fit with a comedic result.

The lesson?  Be careful when you create the voice for your character.  You don’t want your Union soldier to sound like a pirate — unless your end goal is to have my teen son imitating your character for all to see and hear. You don’t want your teen age boy to sound like his mother.

The exceptions?  When you are using it for effect. Maybe you are showing us what your character loves or is interested in.  Maybe this is a clue about their early origins and they’ve carelessly slipped back into an earlier speech mode.  Maybe you’re pirate longs to attend Oxford.

Yes, you can do it for a laugh, but you have to create a reason for your character to be speaking like this.  Otherwise, it just seems off.


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