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  • Writer's pictureEli Allison

Dialogue: In Character

Want to improve your writing, but unsure where to start?

Then you've come to the right place. I've created this blog series where I show you a before and after of my very own writing talking you through my changes.

We're diving deep into dialogue over the next few weeks and this week, we're tackling being in Character.

In Character

This is why I got into writing. Characters. Now don't get me wrong, I love stories, they are my jam. But I've always had a soft spot for the larger than life characters, the bright stars, the souls that burrow into your brain and lay nasty imagination eggs. Think Miss Haverson or Sherlock Holmes or Patrick Bateman. I like to go big or go home when it comes to characterisation but all of these tips are scalable, up and down.

This is also the draft I like to add jokes, but I would caveat that's not how all writers do it, and if the goal is to write comedy rather than stories with jokes, it's probably best to find some resources specific to that. As comedy needs to be built from the ground up. So one last time lets visit Jim and Jill, here's where we left off.

3rd Draft


4th Draft

What is Voice?

When we talk about 'voice' we're not just talking about accents we're talking about the whole shebang. Do they shatter c-bombs like sprinkles or do they pursue their lips at bum? Are they chattier than a nana on a bus or do you have to pry out every word? Do they sling around Loves and Pets and Sweetheart or are they buttoned up formal?

Think about place and age, did your character grow up in the sixties tripping over hippies, or are they a child of the Midwest America? Highly educated or street smart?

Do the research and once you've nailed it down, create a phrasebook for each main character. It makes later drafts easier.

As well as adding depth to your characters by giving everyone a distinctive sounding voice, it helps the reader orientate themselves, without you having to use, Jim said this, and Jill said that a half a dozen times per conversation. All of this makes your writing more immersive.

There is nothing wrong with having accents from around the world. Populating your book with an eclectic mix of people is great, but it is a problem when you have just one Irish character and all he says, is 'top of the morning.' Or a Russian who only talks about 'comrades'. It's lazy, all kinds of offensive and the worst crime in my book, boring. Be better. If you can't be arsed researching a different culture for your backstory, don't make your character from a different country. Sermon over.

Next Level

When you get freaking swish at characterisation through dialogue, take it to the next level. Think about how we talk in real life. We have different personas for different parts of our lives. Banter with our friends, professional tone at work, how we talk to our Mums. Playing around with these social constructs can open up opportunities to show characterisation.

Example: Take Mavis an uptight perfectionist middle-aged woman the phone rings while she is serving tea to the Vicar. She comes back into the room, a strange smile on her face. She carries on serving the tea, but then calls the Vicar by his first name, something she would never do... this shows us how upset she is. Of course, you could have her drop the cup or have her handshake while she pours the tea, but this is just another tool, in your box.

Have fun

Mainly have fun with it; there are millions of ways to speak. The only restriction you should place on yourself is 'be constant' unless them being out of character is highlighting something make sure everything said is in character. Another thing to think about is when it comes to accents is go easy. A little goes a long way unless you're Irvine Welsh and that brings us nicely to a point I've wanted to make. For every rule, suggestion and advice, there will always be a writer who smashed them apart. Went their way. Stuck two fingers up and rode off into the sunset, which is great, that's what art is about. Push those boundaries. But it's helpful to know the 'rules', so you know how and why you're breaking them.

So Remember...

That's all folks, join us next-next week (I'm on my jollies for a week) as we're talking Trigger words (not what you think). Always happy to chat writing, stories, and the end of the world, (dystopian writer here) so head on over to that there Twitter and hit me up with your own tips or just to say hello.

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