Writing Dialogue That Make Your Characters Come Alive

Characters in a good novel really carry the story along more than any other concept in writing. A problem I too often see in my clients' writing is stale dialogue; the kind that sounds like every character is the same person.

Have you ever listened to people while at a party or in a crowd at the store? People speak in this country with many wonderful dialects. Learning to incorporate different ways of speaking will cause your characters to jump off the page appearing to be actual people. This is very important. Your readers must be able to identify and relate to those characters that drive your story.

How to do this is not complicated. When you are fleshing out your characters, do so with a notebook. Take your time and brainstorm about what kind of person each character is from appearance, career, education, family influence, idiosyncrasies, nationality, etc. By researching and developing your characters, you will come to know them like best friends. These fictional characters will actually lead you as you write.

For example - Your antagonist is an uneducated young man, rough, with a mental disorder. Which dialogue should you use to bring this character to life?

"I won't do it, no matter how you try to convince me. In fact, you are causing me great turmoil." Michael sat down, crossed his legs and sighed.

Or ?

"Hell no I ain't gonna do dat! No way, man. What, you's think I'm a freakin' idiot? You really on my nerves, man. Hey man, I gotta a gun that'll fit in yer fat mouth real good, if you's don't shut up." Michael paced back and forth, mumbling to himself, picking something off his shirt that wasn't there.

The first example isn't true to the Michael character at all. He sounds like any other person on the street, giving you no clues to his real personality. However, the second example tells you a few things about him; the manner in which he speaks shows that he is uneducated, angry, and rude. His actions tell the reader that he is seeing things that aren't there, showing - not telling - that he has a problem with reality. In just a few sentences of dialogue, you have given the reader valuable information about Michael that would take an entire page to tell in narrative form.

Affective dialogue will move your story along much faster than writing paragraphs of description that could end up stalling your story. Dialogue is active writing that will put your readers in touch with your characters unlike any other story dynamic. Being true to your characters, and how they relate to the rest of the story, will be the most important writing dynamic of your book.

Jillanne Kimble is the Acquisitions Editor for Kimble McKay Literary Arts Group. They help writers become authors in the traditional publishing industry through time-tested methods, full support, and their huge databases of agents and publishers who are looking for new talent. You can reach her at http://www.kimblemckay.netfirms.com; or [email protected].

In The News:

The Heavy Unseen Labor of Writing Reference Letters  The Chronicle of Higher Education
In Praise of 'Bad' Academic Writing  The Chronicle of Higher Education
Tinker, Tailor, Writer, Spy  The New York Times
Writing Cleopatra  The Mancunion


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