24 Jul

Dialogue: Make Each Character Unique

Dialogue, what characters say, is an important element in any story.
DH, a reader here, is puzzled how to switch from one character to another.

Here’s an example she gave:
“Hey Danielle! Come check out this new book I got!” says Viola. “Okay just a sec.” says Danielle.

See, what I’m asking? I need to know what ways are there to talk between characters without having to say says Danielle, or says Viola or says Darcy.

Dialogue is what characters actually say and it is set off with quotes. Each time a character finishes talking and another begins, it is a new paragraph. If the character’s speech is a sentence, then it ends with a comma that goes inside the quote. If it is a question or exclamation point, that goes inside the quote instead of the comma. Generally, stories are told in past tense, so you would use “said” instead of “says,” which would be used for first person stories. And finally, I tend to put the character’s name before the said/says. In some ways this is a personal preference, but some references consider “said Viola” to be more juvenile than “Viola said.” Decide which you like and stick with it. It’s also a pet peeve for a character to constantly call the other person’s name. I don’t talk to people that way and characters shouldn’t either.

“Hey, come check out this new book I got!” Viola said.
“Okay, just a sec,” Danielle said.

That’s a good basic dialogue structure but now there are things that can help the story move along smoothly. First, is a beat or some sort of action. You can also insert the “she said” into the middle of the dialogue to vary the rhythm of the exchange.

Viola held up a shiny book. “Hey, come check this out!”
“Okay,” Danielle said. “Just a sec.”

Let’s add some setting.

From across the library, Viola held up a shiny book. “Hey!” she called in a stage whisper. “Come check this out!”
“Okay.” Danielle shoved back her chair and said, “Just a sec.”


It is also important to distinguish each character simply by the way they say something.

Viola: Hey, come check this out!

What are some possible responses for Danielle?
“Sure thing.”
“Why? Boring.”
“Girl, you know I don’t like books.”
“I’m busy.”
“Not now.”
“Go away.”
(Silence. She ignores Viola)
“Be quiet.”

Which one would THIS Danielle be most likely to say? It’s a matter of character. What is her attitude about reading and books and being in a library? What is her emotional state? Is she mad, sad, bored, or engrossed in a book of her own? All of those things will infuse the dialogue with something unique. And the reader should be able to tell Danielle’s voice from Viola’s. Because you also know all that about Viola and that should be in what she says and how she says it.

From across the library, Viola waved the new Harry Potter book. “It’s here! Come check it out.”
“Okay.” Danielle yawned, then put down her worn copy of Pride and Prejudice. “I’m coming.”

Dialogue must do more than just have people talking. It must also characterize and show attitude and move the story along. It’s worth the time it takes to explore options.

3 thoughts on “Dialogue: Make Each Character Unique

  1. Great post. I’ll be adding the link to the blogroll on my website. I wish you had buttons that would make it easier to share with Twitter and Facebook, etc. Have you considered adding them? Love your writing tips and blogs.

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