“Choose Dialogue to Define Your Characters” by Joan Y. Edwards
No character in your story is the same. Even twins are different in ways that their families know best. And as a writer, you know all the low-down on each of your characters. They can’t hide from you.
You know their goals and aspirations. You know the problem that’s coming around the corner to make them believe that the end of their world is coming very soon unless they do something. Your character cannot depend on others to solve his problem for him. Your dialogue should show their goals and aspirations.
The dialogue should show conflict with other characters.
How do you show the goals and conflicts with other characters? Choose words that bring out the goals and conflicts.
Kristen Kieffer stated “With individual personalities, cultural influences, experiences, and world views, its no wonder people verbally interact with the world in different ways, and so our characters should as well. Doing so not only helps to distinguish them from the other characters in our stories, but to add depth and realism to their characterization.”
Use dialogue to show a character’s unique qualities and differences. Highlight the traits that must change to meet the inner/outer needs to win the fight or to solve his problem that’s overwhelming him in this conflict.
Read each character’s dialogue aloud. Does it have a different cadence? A different speech pattern.
What Traits Do Your Characters Possess?
Personality: mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, social, dependable behavior, erratic behavior
Culture: music, art, photography, theater, movies, sports, religious beliefs, religious practices, world political points of view, local citizenship, vote or not vote, obey or not obey the laws, obeys no laws, disobeys particular laws, disobeys every law,
Physical Attributes: physical strengths, so-so abilities, and weaknesses,
Habits: daily, weekly, monthly, yearly
Family: habits, male in power, female in power, shared power
Education no education, high school, college, master’s degree, doctorate, community college, school for mechanics, technology,
Job: Does he have a job? How long has he had his job?
Experience: past experience that decides present situation problems and outcomes
Three Films That Have Great Dialogue
In the film, My Cousin Vinny, you can tell by the conversations with the judge and others that Vinny doesn’t always tell the truth, but he can tell when someone else is not telling the truth. Mona Lisa Vito constantly asks Vinny how she can help him prove the innocence of his nephew. This shows her sincerity. Almost all of Mona’s dialogue in the film indicates her knowledge of automobiles so that when she presents evidence in court that saves the boys and proves their innocence, it is not a complete surprise to the audience. They know she’s an expert before she gets on the stand.
You can tell by the conversation in The Shawshank Redemption,
that Andy Dufresne played by Tim Robbins is very resourceful and that he never gives up. He bombards the federal government with pleas for books every day for years. Then they get the books. He does decent things to help all the other prisoners which makes you wonder if this is going to pay off for him and help him get out. Each thing that helps redeem him is masterfully setup and the payoffs are wonderful. It has a lot of violence but it is a great film to show how each item in a story sets up action or event pay off later in the plot. Each conversation by Andy in the movie leads up to the solution of his problem.
In The Proposal, Margaret Tate’s dialogue lets you know that she is selfish. Andrew Paxton, his mother and grandmother show her unconditional love and she changes. She begins to care and to love them.
You can also have one character’s dialogue explain or hint at a another character’s trait.
Listen to the first 15 minutes of three of your favorite films. Notice how the dialogue shows essential character traits that will either save him or become his Waterloo.
Look at the first three chapters of your book or best-selling novels and see where you can add or take away bits of conversation to strengthen the book. Discover ways to let your readers know your main character and the conflicts he has with those who are with him on his journey to his goal.
If you’re illustrating a book, knowing the flaws and strengths of your characters, will help you hint to them in your artwork. I’d like to hear your favorite dialogue that defines your characters and illustrates character traits that are essential to theme of your story.
Good luck to you in all of your writing endeavors. Below my signature, I listed links to great articles with other ideas for making your dialogue define your characters.
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- Charlie Jane Anders. “All Your Characters Talk The Same — And They’re Not A Hive Mind!” https://io9.gizmodo.com/5379280/all-your-characters-talk-the-same–and-theyre-not-a-hivemind
- James Scott Bell. “The 7 Tools of Dialogue:” http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-7-tools-of-dialogue
- Kristen Kieffer. “How to Define Your Character’s Unique Voice-Well-Storied:” http://www.well-storied.com/blog/how-to-define-your-characters-unique-voice
- Marcy Kennedy. “How to Write Dialogue Unique to Your Characters” https://marcykennedy.com/2012/11/how-to-write-dialogue-unique-to-your-characters/
- New Novel.com. “Writing dialogue: 7 Examples of Dialogues that Work:” https://www.nownovel.com/blog/writing-dialogue-examples/
- Sarah Baughman. “How To Balance Dialogue and Description – Write It Sideways:” https://writeitsideways.com/dialogue-description/