Friday, January 28, 2011

Characters You Can Pinch - Part 6

Effective Use of Dialogue

In real life, we don't all sound the same.  In fact, you could tell twenty people in a room to pass on a simple message, and the end result would be twenty different ways of communicating the same thing.  And why is that?  Simple answer is background.  We all come from different places in life, wealthy, poor, happy, sad, another nationality.  The list could go on.

We need to incorporate this same concept to our characters.  Now, this stage is still something I need to be very conscious of.  It's too easy to make your characters sound alike.  In fact, with one novel I had beta read, the comment came back from two of them that in a certain chapter the characters were all starting to sound alike.  At first, I didn't see it.  But I tried to go back over the chapter and look at it objectively.  I figured two people saying the same thing - there's got to be merit.  And, there was.  I ended up re-writing this scene actually.  None of the people in it had a distinct personality, or driving agenda.  (For this discussion, see Characters You can Pinch - Part 1:  Give Everyone an Agenda)  Once I figured out, as the writer, who the people were, it was easier to make their speech stand out as unique.

If you've done a good job with developing your characters through dialogue, you'll find your reader won't require a tag to know who's speaking.  Their presence will come through in what they say - and how they say it.

It doesn't just have to be about words, it can be about accent.  People of different nationalities not only phrase things differently than we might, they speak with emphasis on different letters.  Maybe you have a character who is Asian and English is their second language.  Make this obvious in your dialogue.  I work with one woman who is from Japan.  Most of our communication is via email as she works at the head office out of town.  Her sentences are clipped and worded in an odd manner.  By example, one day she emailed, You are funnier.  Obviously, she meant you are funny.  Or another example, I had faxed something to her that should have been faxed to a customer.  She emailed me to make me aware of my mistake and taking from the end of her email:  I advice you resend.  Here she meant to say advise.  Small things like this can be used to disclose a character's background.

Some ideas to making a character's speech unique:

Make sure they have an agenda
   - See Characters You can Pinch - Part 1:  Give Everyone an Agenda

Observe people in real life
   - My boss has a habit of saying okey dokey at the end of a telephone conversation.  No one else I've ever known has used this expression.  One day, I'm sure a character in my novel will have this habit.

Listen to people of different backgrounds and how they express themselves
   - do they swear a lot?  Do they show respect for other people by the way they say things?  How do they phrase things?

Practice
   - Write a dialogue passage as you would say it.  Now, re-write it several times from different characters' POVs.

Can you incorporate any of this in your WIP?  A character who talks in clipped sentences?  Someone who always messes up popular sayings?  Someone who comes out with the strangest things?  Maybe they state the obvious?

Now the above has mainly dealt with revealing background of a character.  Dialogue also has the ability to reveal attitude and motivations.  Used effectively, you won't need to add after a character speaks, so-and-so smiled.  Your reader will picture it.  If your character says something off-cuff and sarcastic, if you've phrased it properly, you won't need to add, so-and-so said sardonically.  It will be revealed through the words of your character.
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