(Pardon this short, brazen interruption, but I'll be teaching a "Show, Don't Tell" tell-all online class via the Yosemite Romance Writers starting this September. The details are posted farther down under Upcoming Workshops.)
During the online class, William had an epiphany regarding dialogue as the result of a particular writing exercise. In particular, he was able to see that most of his characters sounded alike.
He has since jumped into the task of discovering how to make each character sound different. Please feel free to take a look at what he's learned via his blog, Phoenix Hall Writer's Blog.
I was planning to teach a course about this very subject at the East of Eden Writers Conference in September in Salinas, CA. But alas, the event has been cancelled due to low registration.
Therefore I'll pass on one of the main points I'd planned to emphasize:
Wanting to change an aspect of our stories, such as dialogue, is laudable. Usually we start with good intentions. We pay extra attention to that particular point for awhile, but then we get excited with the story and lose track of that area of detail. It's hard not to do otherwise when there are so many aspects we need to focus on.
What I suggest is that for every aspect of each scene — dialogue included — you make a template, or a list of questions. Then you fill out that template by answering each question in detail. For example:
Main influence on how he/she speaks:
Cultural influences regarding speech:
Mood in this scene:
Make the list as long as is necessary to guarantee you understand how this character differs in dialogue/action from other characters. Then fill out the template for every character participating in each scene.
That's the way I keep myself from getting lazy, so maybe it'll work for you.
If you've got another strategy, let's hear it!
Thanks, William, for passing on your words of wisdom.