What are modalities?
A modality is how someone translates real world experiences into memories, and how they retrieve those memories. For example, when someone reads text, there are a few different ways they might remember what they’ve read:
Remembering the specific words on the page
Saying the words out loud and remembering the sound
Reinterpreting the text and remembering their own version of it
The 4 major modalities are:
- Visual modalities, what we see
- Auditory modalities, what we hear
- Kinesthetic modalities, what we physically and mentally/emotionally feel
- Digital modalities, facts, information, or conclusions that we have inferred
People use all 4 modalities to remember and retrieve information, but most have a preference for one or more. This is reflected in how a person prefers to learn, and how they choose to express themselves. In this time of extensive online/digital communication, there are many examples of modality preferences. Some prefer to speak in person, while others are far more expressive in text and email. Within an online forum one person may favor text based comments, while another prefers emojis, memes, and other visual responses.
Using Modalities in Dialogue
Whether a person’s modalities inform their profession, or whether their profession causes their modalities to shift, it is proven that people in specific professions frequently possess associated modalities; visual for engineers and craftsmen, audio for musicians and public speakers, etc. Consider what types of tasks your character performs most frequently in their life, and how those experiences inform or reflect the character’s modalities.
Understanding which modalities a character prefers, and using those modalities in their dialogue is another way to personalize a character’s voice. For example, imagine that someone is explaining something to the protagonist. If they respond with, “I see,” they’re engaging a visual modality. If they say, “I understand,” they’re engaging a digital one.
People will also switch modalities when their way of thinking changes, and subconsciously reveal their current modality through their eyes. A person engaged in a visual modality often looks up. Looking to the sides suggests an auditory modality. Down and to the right suggests emotions or imagination, while down and to the left implies a digital modality, an internal debate or analysis.
Understanding modalities can help a character seem more authentic in subtle ways that most don’t consciously realize, and lend each character a more unique voice and personality. Audiences rarely pause to analyze why a character feels “off,” but often it’s in the small details that a character truly becomes an individual in the eyes of the audience.
Dialogue Relationships & Roles