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Bring your characters to life with dialogue

Posted by Maria Murnane | October 27, 2011

First-time novelists often have trouble with dialogue. A common problem is that the characters all sound the same, so the readers have a hard time telling them apart. As a result, the readers get confused, annoyed, distracted, or all of the above – none of which you want to happen.

If you want your readers to become invested in your characters, you need to bring those characters to life – and dialogue presents a wonderful opportunity to do just that! So when your characters speak, have them make an impression. Are they sarcastic? Jaded? Bitter? Happy? Sad? Pessimistic? Optimistic? Loyal? Funny? Do they use their hands a lot when they speak? Do they lower their voice when they gossip? Do they chew gum? Do they have a particular gesture or body tic that gives away what they’re feeling?

You may have heard the expression “show, don’t tell,” and this is a great example of that. Don’t tell us what the characters are like, let them show us.

Think about the people in your life who are closest to you. I’m guessing you can often tell what they’re feeling just by their body language. If you can put that level of perception into your dialogue, your readers will come to see your characters as real people, not just words on a page. And if you do this well, eventually you’ll be able to write a line and either think to yourself, “This sounds just like something Sally Smith would say or do,” or “Sally Smith would never say or do such a thing,” in which case, delete and try again.

When the characters begin speaking to you, they begin to take on a life of their own, and the story starts to write itself. And when that happens, you’re on your way to producing a great novel.

-Maria

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2011 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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