How to Describe a Voice
Enhance Your Writing by Changing the Way You Write Voices
In the real world, everyone does not say each statement in the same, flat monotone. So why do so many writers blandly state “he said ____,” and “she said ____” for each piece of dialogue? A simple and extremely effective way of getting your readers engaged is to add descriptive statements to your writing. This lets people hear a character’s personality and mood with each line of dialogue. Learning how to improve descriptions of voices does not have to be challenging. This simple guide will help you take your writing to the next level by changing the way you describe people’s voices.
How to Add Descriptors to Your Voices
How to write dialogue is generally a complicated subject that could fill an entire book. For simplicity’s sake, we are going to assume you already can write decent dialogue and want to know how to make your current dialogue just a little more vivid. The standard dialogue is divided into a tag, the group of words right before or after the speech that indicate something is being spoken out loud, and the quote itself. Most of a dialogue’s description will be within the tag itself. This lets the reader know who is talking and how they are talking.
There are a few different ways to do this. The simplest is with descriptive modifiers. Add these to your current dialogue to fine tune the tone you want to convey. For example, a simple adverb like “angrily” turns a basic “he said” into the start of an argument. In some cases, you can also use adjectives to describe the speaker or their voice and in turn describe the way they are speaking. For example, “the shy girl said” conveys a different tone of voice than “the girl said.”
Another option is just getting rid of the word “said” altogether. New writers tend to rely on this verb because it is simple and clearly shows someone is talking. However, it can also be a bit repetitive and basic. Using synonyms, like “Kathy yelled” can provide more information on how something is said. You can also leave behind the basic two word tag of a subject and a verb describing the subject talking. Instead, you can introduce dialogue with an entire sentence, such as “He hesitated before speaking.” that introduces how a quote is going to be spoken.
Remember it is always important to avoid going overboard and turning your writing into nothing but a pile of descriptors. Your dialogue should be balanced between the tag and the quote. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your descriptions do not make up more than a quarter of the overall volume of your dialogue. Once you can describe the general tone and set up the overall conversation, you can let things flow smoothly. It’s fine to just have several lines of dialogue framed with “he jokingly said” instead of introducing each individual line with “he teasingly said,” “he chuckled as he said,” and “he gibed.”
Ideas for Describing Voices
Of course adding descriptions to voices can sometimes feel a bit easier said than done. If you are struggling to come up with new and original ways to describe a voice, use this handy list of descriptive phrases.
- Abrasive: This voice description is great for telling the reader a voice is annoying.
- Breathy: Use this to describe an unsure and weak voice.
- Dead: Dead emphasizes the character uses a flat monotone to talk.
- Flat: Similar to dead, this can show a lack of emotion.
- Grating: Let the reader know the person has an unpleasant voice.
- Guttural: This describes a deep an intense voice.
- High pitched: Often used for females, children, or those with exaggerated emotions.
- Honeyed: This brings to mind a slow, sweet, and potentially seductive voice. It can also convey a sense of falsehood or insincerity.
- Low: Low can be used to describe either a deep tone or a quiet tone.
- Modulated: You can use this adjective to make a character seem reasonable and pleasant.
- Optimistic: This conveys a cheerful and pleasant tone to a voice.
- Pompous: This descriptor creates a voice that is unlikable and snobby.
- Raucous: You can use this to describe loud noises that are either rough or jovial.
- Ringing: Loud clear voices can be described with this word.
- Silently: When used to describe a voice, this depicts someone so quiet they are barely audible.
- Smoky: Smoky lends a mysterious and attractive quality to a voice description.
- Strident: This is an excellent option for conveying how unpleasant a character sounds.
- Taut: Use this to describe a voice that is tense or nervous.
- Thick: A thick voice is one so filled with emotion it may sound slightly unclear.
- Wobbly: Convey fear or another emotion with the character’s unstable tone of voice.
New Ways of Framing Voices
Ways to describe a voice do not always have to mean adding an adverb or adjective to each line of dialogue. Instead, you can use a voice synonym to switch things up. Instead of writing “said” or “says” each time a character is about to speak, you can use descriptive verbs and nouns to paint a picture with a simple word. Here are some voice synonym ideas to give a try when you write your next dialogue tag.
- Approval: Show a character is in favor of the statement they are making.
- Bleat: This lends a whiny or cringing tone to a voice.
- Cackle: Can be used for a voice that is amused or possibly overwrought and unhinged.
- Cry: This can be used to express both sobbing and general loud voices.
- Echo: Calling someone’s voice an echo shows they are repetitive or unoriginal.
- Giggle: You can use this to express a lighthearted tone in your dialogue.
- Hiss: A hiss can express fear or malice.
- Joke: A voice that is joking can appear cheerful or taunting.
- Lecture: This represents a voice that can feel bossy or annoying to hear.
- Mumble: Use mumble to show a voice is quiet and unclear.
- Murmur: This soft, barely heard voice can convey mystery, sorrow, or regret.
- Prompt: A voice that is a prompt is one that is urging someone to state or remember something.
- Rasp: A rasp is a voice that is hoarse, low, and somewhat eerie.
- Rebuke: This voice synonym expresses conflict or domineering behavior.
- Shriek: Use this for a voice that is unpleasant, loud, or potentially panicked.
- Squeal: This describes a sharp, sudden tone of voice
- Wheeze: This is a voice that sounds ill or tired.
- Yawn: A voice that is a yawn expresses boredom or fatigue.
- Yell: Use this to show a voice is loud and full of emotion
Ultimately, the right description of a voice can set a scene and make it easier for your reader to imagine voices in their heads. Just a few little changes to the way you describe voices and introduce statements makes a big difference. By getting creative with your voice descriptions, you can provide insights into your character and make your writing come alive.