The last couple of posts have been revolved around supporting characters.
Whether it is a supporting or the main character, you need them to sound distinctive so the reader doesn’t get confused and know who is talking.
In an earlier post about dialogue, I pointed out that if your characters each have a distinct voice, you can get away with fewer dialogue tags. But how do you make them sound different from one another?
Here are eight things to consider when crafting distinctive dialogue.
1. Sentence length
Listen to how people talk. Some go on in run-on sentences while others limit themselves to a word or two, or even a grunt.
2. Exchange pattern
This is related to sentence length. Does your character yammer on for a paragraph at a time, or does he express himself more succinctly? Does she interrupt frequently, or does he trail off, leaving sentences/thoughts unfinished? All of these can make for distinctive dialogue.
Your medieval history professor should be using a different vocabulary than the peasant or retail clerk in your novel. Tune a character’s dialogue to their profession, education level, socio-economic background, etc.
4. Thought processes
Dialogue should reflect your character’s thought processes and be consistent with her inner dialogue. Is she a logical thinker (and thus talker)? Does he have a stream of consciousness style of talking? Is she easily distracted? These thought patterns should appear in the dialogue.
Have you tried using a characters inner thought process mid-scene?
5. Self-centered vs objective
We all know people who only see the world as it affects themselves. If a character references everything back to himself, this can make his dialog distinctive. “So sorry to hear about Bob’s cancer. That reminds me of when my Aunt Mae was diagnosed with IBS …”
6. Metaphors, references, et al
Use metaphors and personal references that reflect your character’s background. When describing a loud noise, a music lover might say it reminded him of an AC/DC concert, a veteran might compare it to mortar shells exploding, and a parent might say it was louder than a two-year-old’s screams. Mine your characters’ backgrounds for these sorts of comparisons and details.
7. Accents or verbal tics
We might not think of silence as part of a dialogue, but it definitely is. A character who is silent in response to certain kinds of dialog but not others is distinctive, as is a character who uses silence as a weapon, forcing other characters to speak up to fill the gap. Where other characters might respond, it helps create a character whose silence commands a situation.
Don’t overlook the opportunities silence presents for creating a distinctive dialogue pattern for a character.
How do you make your characters dialogue distinctive?
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