“Does Your Dialogue Tell Us Who’s Doing the Talking?” by Joan Y. Edwards
When your readers read your book, can they tell who’s talking without dialogue tags? What does your dialogue tell us about your characters? Look at one of your manuscripts. Can your readers tell who’s talking by the words they use or don’t use? In real life, each person speaks with a different set of words. They speak in a different way. They speak with a different voice.
Does the dialogue indicate every aspect of his character so that no one would mistake his words as coming from another character? Does a character’s traits show in the dialogue he speaks?
Ali Luke says one good trick is to take only the lines of dialogue in your short story or novel – cut out the action and dialogue tags (he said, she said) – and see whether you can figure out who said what.
You can even hand your BETA READER a copy. According to Wikipedia, a BETA READER is a person who reads a written work before its publication to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Your critique groups are BETA READERS. However, when I’ve heard BETA READER used, it is a special person chosen by the author to give them feedback on a whole book before the author submits it to an editor or agent for publication.
Ask a reader to read the pages of dialogue and write in who was talking for each. Readers should be able to tell that a different person is talking. If they know the characters and their character traits, they’ll have a better chance of figuring out who is talking.
If you don’t have access to a reader, read it yourself. Check it yourself with a chapter from your latest manuscript. Take out the “he said, she said” dialogue tags. You can even go so far as to take out the action, too.
From doing this you’ll realize the importance of giving each character distinct speech patterns and unique character traits. If all of your characters sound like they came out of the same box, creative revision might be a good idea.
Ali Luke gave some ideas for creating distinctive dialogue for characters and I added a few of my own:
- How Old Is the Character: a teen and grandpa don’t talk the same way
- Gender: male and female characters won’t use the same vocabulary
- Socio/economic class: Is your character from the slums or rich with money and worldly goods?
- Education level: Does the character use a small or big vocabulary? Can you tell he didn’t finish high school?
- Where Does He Live: Can you tell where they live by their words? Can you tell their native language?
- Pet Words/Phrases: Does one of your characters have a pet word, phrase, or expression? OMG, You don’t say!
- Personality Traits: Do his words indicate that the character is stingy? dumb? smarter than a dictionary? Chatty versus man of few words?
- What does the Character Want? Money, fame, independence, freedom, or something else?
- What does the Character Need? Confidence, love, power or something else?
- Beth Kinderman and Nikki Walker. “The 100 Most Important Things To Know About Your Character (revised):” http://www.miniworld.com/adnd/100ThingsAboutUrPCBackGround.html
- Story Jumper.com. “StoryStarter – Telling your story in 7 steps:” http://www.storyjumper.com/main/starter
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Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2014 Joan Y. Edwards