Your characters are already unique. No doubt you’ve enjoyed writing a colorful description of your characters’ looks along with healthy dollops of personality traits and quirks. You love the unique, relatable characters you have created. But when it comes to their dialogue, well it’s nothing but tumbleweeds. So what does your dialogue need in order to have a fulfilling roll in your story?

Your dialogue must do these two things:

  1. Mould your character’s unique identity and personality 
  2. Organically move the plot along

Dialogue that Creates a Unique Identity:

When your character speaks, you are essentially giving their personality a megaphone. With dialogue you don’t describe your character’s gestures, facial expressions or reactions. Your reader will simply be seeing the character speak and react all on their own. Dialogue really is the truest representation of who your character is, bells and whistles aside. This part of your story is precious and sacred. So how do you make certain that your character’s personality is truly shining and representing who they are?

Remember, your character speaks from their experience. Their opinions, reactions, insights, and pieces of advice all stem from the experiences and troubles they have undergone (much like you and I!). Their dialogue is the flower that blooms from the root of their life choices. What they say is an expression of themselves and so they are in effect, advertising who they are. Therefore their dialogue should represent the result of their experiences, history, and where they have come from.

Still a little unclear as to what could make their dialogue as unique as their personalty?

Well then try this trick: take out a piece of paper and write down the names of the characters you are having the most trouble writing dialogue for. Underneath their names make a list of their unique personality traits.

For example if your character is the cut throat leader of a dangerous gang, then he is bound to be prideful, arrogant, and even hostile. He most likely has anger issues, trust issues, the need to be respected, and most likely believes true friendships are based on loyalty.

Now, take a good look at those identifying traits. Those traits are the foundation for his dialogue pattern. He will speak in a way that is often hostile, arrogant. He will have no problem giving out commands and opinions because he expects them to be respected by all. If his word is challenged, then you can bet there is going to be hell to pay for it. And most importantly, the reader will easily identify his comments in a scene because it sounds like something he would say. Your reader will even begin to anticipate his reactions and input during pivotal scenes!

Are you starting to see the dots connecting? I can bet that you are!

The key to remember is this: the personality must flow right into the dialogue. In this way the reader easily identifies the character without the need of narrative “training wheels”– or sentences where you feel the urge to describe the character’s reactions or feelings.

Dialogue should be used to explain a character rather than have you break down the character yourself.

Consider it like this: If a friend were to tell you all about another friend of theirs that they wanted to introduce you to, you might have a passing interest in meeting them. However if you met this friend yourself and began speaking with them in person you would be able to see their great qualities and interests for yourself. Thus the relationship is more profound and personal to you. Therefore, the more you allow a character to speak is more opportunity for your reader to truly get to know the character for themselves. And that is really what the reader wants!

But how do you know when to use dialogue? When is it better to use dialogue in place of narrative writing? And when will we discuss the part about why dialogue must move the plot along?

Why Dialogue must move the Plot Forward:

Dialogue should also be used as a tool to organically move the plot along. Now what does that mean? It simply means that dialogue has more than one job to accomplish. It should not only mould and identify the character speaking, it should also use the opportunity to inform the reader that changes are taking place in the story. This is one of the most organic ways to implement change, a climatic arch point, or plot twist in your story. It is because you’re using your characters’ reactions toward one another as the bridge instead of your own explanations. So how do you do it?

Well, this part is up to you. Only you know your story inside and out. Only you know every plot twist and turn you’ve carefully placed in your story. Only you truly know your characters. So you should be able to take time to discern when this should be implemented. That being said, dialogue should replace the impulse to explain the situation to a reader as often as deemed appropriate. If there is a plot point in your story that is explained by you, try looking it over again. Ask yourself if your characters could use that opportunity to instead express the plot point through their actions and words. Show, don’t tell by use of dialogue. 

Well dear readers and fellow writers, that’s what I have to share on the topic of dialogue and how much it affects your story and your characters. Have any questions? Or, have extra input to add? Well I want to hear from you! Please comment below and join in on the discussion. And please be sure to share this page with your friends! Thank you.

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