Characters can come alive with great dialogue. They can jump off the page, surprise you, make you laugh or make you cry. And it’s so much fun to write. Through what your characters say, their personalities shine through.
Let me show you what I mean. Imagine a teacher asking the class if they have done their homework. The children will respond in different ways and we can work out something about their character. In some cases I‘ve added body language too.
1)‘Have you all handed in your homework?’ says Mr Mason, glaring around the room.
‘I have, Sir,’ says Annabel, her back straight, looking smug per usual.
2) ‘Have you all handed in your homework?’ says Mr Mason, glaring around the room.
Sam drops his head, suddenly finding the markings on his desk very interesting,
3) ‘Have you all handed in your homework?’ says Mr Mason, glaring around the room.
‘Sorry Sir,’ says Rachel. ‘An alien thought it was the best piece of work he’d ever seen and took it back to his spaceship.’
4) ‘Have you all handed in your homework?’ says Mr Mason, glaring around the room.
‘Yeah,’ says Mickey, with a yawn.
We can deduce something about the characters from each of their answers. Annabel is keen to please, but can be rather irritating. She is ‘smug per usual.’ Sometimes saying nothing, speaks volumes. Sam doesn’t want to be noticed, most likely because he hasn’t done his homework. Rachel hasn’t done her homework either, but doesn’t seem worried. She’s making a joke out of it, possibly hoping that humour will get her out of trouble. Mickey’s handed his in. He’s yawning, which means he could be tired or maybe he doesn’t care either. If I’d added: ‘‘Yeah,’ says Mickey, with a bored yawn,’ his disinterest would have been more obvious.
So dialogue can reveal an awful lot about personality. You can paint a picture of your character through the words they use.
How would your characters answer the question above? If you want to have a go, I thought I’d share a few tips.
- Imagine you are your character. Are they the sort of person to have finished their homework? How would they sit in the class?
- If writing more than one character, try to make their voices distinct. Mickey doesn’t sound like Annabel. Sam doesn’t sound like Rachel.
- Give your character something to do while they’re speaking. For example Mr Mason glared around the room.
- Read aloud your dialogue afterwards. Does it sound as though someone is speaking or is it a little stilted?
- Most importantly, have fun with it. Play with the language. Set your characters free.