Fictional Characters Drive a Novel’s Success
Every novel you write must capture your reader with believable dialogue from the characters you create. If all of your characters *sound* the same, then the story can feel unreal and plastic. Characters must take on the persona of a real person, even though you as the author are creating that character in a fictional world.
Friends speaking in a real-world situation
Imagine for a moment you and three of your friends are having lunch at a local restaurant. You’re excited to see your friends and learn what has happened in their lives since the last time you got together. Now, become an observer and just listen to each of them talk about their day or a special event. Do they all share the same favorite words? Does one person use a different inflection from the person sitting next to her? Without even knowing what your response will be, I can tell you that each one of your friends has her own *personality* when she interacts with the others around a table.
Defined below, you will read how I go about creating a fictional character’s dialogue based on four special aspects.
Pay Attention to Creating Your Character’s Favorite Words and Expressions
Depending upon where your story takes place, each character will have a pet expression, an accent, a manner of speech or slang that those in her age group, peers, or professional group likes to use. When you are creating a character in your novel, keep a log, spreadsheet, database, or a list of her favorite words and expressions. These words will define her as a character and will breathe life into every situation where she enters the scene in your novel.
If you’re writing a historical piece, make sure the lingo is appropriate for the time period. If slang is important to defining that character, you need to keep up on the latest expressions via Internet slang sites and by talking to people who represent the group your character identifies with the most. For example, surfers no longer “hang ten.” Cops no longer talk about “gats.”
What types of vocabulary words define your fictional character?
Wait. What? Is a fictional character defined by his or her vocabulary words? Really? Are we back in middle school?
Each character in your novel should use words that tell the reader a lot about his or her background. If your character knows words like deleterious and expatriate, then the reader will believe that character has a good education.
If your character dropped out of school early, then he or she will probably use different words to describe a life event.
Does your character speak with regionalisms?
A regionalism means that a character will use words that are specific to their state, country, or region. In the United States, characters from specific regions (Midwest versus West Coast) will refer to Coke or Pepsi as either ‘soda’ or ‘pop.’
When I lived in France with my husband many years ago, the upper elite would order Canada Dry at a pub or restaurant, and that would mean the waiter would give them a ginger ale beverage. As an American living in France, I thought that was rather strange, since Canada Dry was a vendor, a brand, and that company created many different beverages, not just ginger ale, but I digress.
Let me present one more regionalism, and then I’m sure you can recite hundreds more that you are familiar with and will help you define your fictional character’s regionalism “speak.”
When I lived in Hawaii, I learned what it meant to ‘talk story.’ But during those first few months, I had absolutely no clue what that meant…until the day when I stood in line at a grocery store or local market, with my West Coast mentality of “Can I just check out and get on with my day?” attitude. The cashier engaged the shopper ahead of me with wanting to know detailed and specific moment-by-moment happenings of the past weekend and her participation in the hula festival. Since the other checkout lanes were several people deep, I stood there, admittedly tapping my foot and looking at my watch, until the customer was properly checked out and it was my turn to pay for my groceries.
Later, I learned that when you live in Hawaii, people slow down enough to ‘talk story’ and no one (except tourists or newcomers) are running in the fast lane to get on with the next item on a to-do list.
In some parts of our country, when you share a meal in the evening, it is called dinner, whereas in other regions, it is called supper. Remember, dear author, your reader will know and understand these elements that make your story more believable.
I’m telling you this so you will take the time to create each one of your fictional characters with his or her own regionalisms.
Does your character speak with a dialect or syntax?
Without going into a long diatribe about how readers at major publishing houses toss and reject manuscripts with stories comprised of multiple characters that speak with a dialect or speech mannerism, let me say this: Don’t do it!
Creating Dialogue for a Character with a Dialect
For example, don’t have a character say, “Wah ah jus’ luhv’t when a yung’n lake y’sef sets’n dan bah the far.” Instead, write out the dialogue like this: “Why, I just love it when a young’n like you sets on down by the fire.”
Rather, you can let your readers know that he spoke with a thick southern drawl.
Creating Dialogue for a Character Using Syntax
What I’m referring to here is when a character puts words into a specific order, which indicates to your reader that this person’s native language is not English.
For example, a Japanese character just learning English would say: “Please, where is bathroom?” As compared to someone proficient in the English language might say, “Can you tell me where the restrooms are, please?”
Another example might sound like this: “How is going the writing?” Or, “I myself have idea for novel.”
A native English speaker will quickly understand what the character is saying or asking, but it is clear to the reader that the person is not fluent in the language. Alas, these syntax elements are critical when creating the character, you want defined in your novel.
In summary, this short blog post briefly skims the surface for an author who wants to learn more about crafting the perfect phrase or comeback to another character in your story, but hopefully, you’ve learned four insider secrets to creating characters with genuine dialogue that will move your story forward.
Do you still need help with creating unique dialogue for each one of your novel’s fictional characters?
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