J.P. (Jo-Anne) McLean is the author of The Gift Legacy series, Awakening, Revelation, Redemption, Penance and, Betrayal. Reviewers call the series addictive, smart and fun. Within those pages, a young protagonist, Emelynn Taylor, tests the theory that what doesn’t break you makes you stronger.
Writing Deeper Dialogue by JP McLean
Putting words in your characters’ mouths can make for an entertaining day of writing. Your characters say things you never would, in a tone your mother wouldn’t approve of, and using language that would raise eyebrows. It’s a bit of a power trip. It almost makes up for all those times you thought up the perfect comeback … moments too late.
But dialogue isn’t just the words in a conversation: it’s language, it’s context, it’s nuance. Dialogue gives the writer the opportunity to show a character’s education, origins, ethnicity, wealth, temperament, age, mind-set and so much more.
- Is your character gonna or going to?
- Is your character speaking in an east coast accent or a southern drawl?
- Is your character late because she was dealing with an incompetent sales woman at Holt Renfrew or teasing bubble gum out of her two-year-old’s hair?
- Are your characters using short, truncated sentences, or are they long-winded?
- Are your characters speaking in a clipped tone, or with the patience of a nun?
- How your characters describe something says something about them. Do they describe the homeless person as a rumpled waste of breath, or an unfortunate soul.
- Where are your characters situated while they have their conversation? You can keep your readers grounded in the scene by occasional references to place. Will your characters gaze upon an original Picasso or a McDonald’s Ball Pit? If you’re referencing clothing, are they smoothing the nap of a fine wool overcoat, or picking burrs from an old pilled sweater?
And a few final notes:
Make sure you are punctuating your dialogue correctly—a quick refresher never hurts.
Read your dialogue out loud to double check that it sounds real—people rarely speak in full sentences, or use grammatically-correct English.
Use simple dialogue tags (he said/she said). Readers expect “said” and therefore it doesn’t get in the way or pull them out of the story. I’m not saying don’t use other tags (whispered, rasped), but use them sparingly, and let the dialogue and body language convey the sentiment.
Make sure the reader knows who’s speaking. You don’t need to tag each line of dialogue if there are only two people speaking, but in lengthy conversations you may want throw in a character reference to keep readers on track.
You can also use what are called “beats” to identify who’s speaking. In a bar scene for example, if only one of your characters is drinking beer, then we know who’s talking in this line: He downed his beer. “That’s it for me.”
And that’s it for me as well. Now go stir up some mischief and put words into your characters’ mouths! Best of luck with your writing.
Who is J.P. McLean?
Jo-Anne and her husband live on Denman Island, nestled between the coast of British Columbia and Vancouver Island. J.P. holds a degree in commerce from the University of British Columbia, is a certified scuba diver, an avid gardener and a voracious reader.
The first book of her Gift Legacy Series, Awakening, received Honourable Mention at the 2016 Whistler Independent Book Awards. In 2016, J.P.’s body of work was included in the centennial anthology of the Comox Valley Writers Society, Writers & Books: Comox Valley 1865-–2015.
She would love to hear from you. Contact her via her website at www.jpmclean.net or through her social media sites. Reviews are always welcome and greatly appreciated.
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