by G. B. Pool
I have mentioned before that “Dialogue is the workhorse of the novel or short story.” It provides plot advancement, character development, and action or movement. In a way, it sings. In other words, it brings the story to life.
A character blurting out information that advances the plot is far more interesting than a long narrative description of same. Through dialogue we discover personality traits about the various people who populate our stories. How a person speaks and acts while talking says a lot more about him or her than words alone. And dialogue provides real time action. You are in the room with the characters as they speak. You’re eavesdropping or right in the middle of the conversation. Or the character might be speaking directly to you.
“There’s someone sneaking up behind you. Watch out!”
Got your attention, didn’t it? That’s what dialogue should do.
In order to know how a character speaks or acts, or even the words he uses, you must get to know your characters… intimately. I suggest that you write a biography of at least your principle characters so you know who they are.
First, make the characters seem real to you as well as to your readers. Let them speak to you and trust them. Most writers will tell you they actually “hear” their characters, and it is that particular “voice” that makes a character unique.
Here is one really cool way to make a character different: Whether he or she is a major or a minor actor in the piece, give him or her an accent. That doesn’t mean you have to write their dialogue all in French or Pig Latin. In fact, too much of a good thing can turn off your readers. But a word or phrase sprinkled in to give the reader a taste of that foreign accent, regional twang, or distinctive way of speaking… speaks volumes.
An accent or even a stutter tells something about the character, at least where he comes from or maybe why she knows so much about French cooking. And it’s fun. It breaks up the monotony of every character sounding alike. A Southern belle would have far more sass that say, a straight-laced New England spinster. And a gal with a lisp can add a little color, especially when she struggles to tell about “a thip thinking in the harbor.” How long will it take for folks to realize there is a ship in distress?
Here are a few examples that might get you in the mood to try an accent:
An Accent Enhances the Character:
In a simple scene where you have a neighbor who makes a guest appearance, why not make her colorful? The first example is a neighbor with no personality. The second example gives her some character.
- “Sweetheart, something has happened to your living room. Did you perhaps get another dog?”
- “Honey, somethin’s happened to yer living room. Did ya’ll get another dawg?” (from Hedge Bet)
How About a Foreign Accent?
Let’s try Spanish –
The volcano erupted again. “No. No. NO! My Franco no cheat. He best jockey in dee worlds. He no fix dee race. Meester Paul Bradshaw, beeg shot at dee track, pick my Franco to be dee one to give check to Jockey Fund.” (from Hedge Bet)
One thing I do when writing these accents is to put the foreign word or mispronounced (and misspelled) word in italics so the reader gets the hint that the word is supposed to be that way and that I’m not a poor typist or speller. It also makes reading those words a little easier because the reader goes along with the gag.
Maybe a Speech Impediment Might Add Character:
Remember, not everyone is Laurence Olivier with a perfect English accent. Take for example a time when your main character encounters someone who is going to give him information. What if she is both colorful in looks as well as speech? This old dear lisps and isn’t exactly a rocket scientist, but boy does she have character.
Mouse stopped eating. He must have been rethinking his desire to find the king’s killer. He gazed in the direction Buttons had taken and I think he would have bolted had PJ not spoken.
“We never thee what the people in the truckth are doing,” PJ said. “They want uth out on the thtreet or in the front of one of the thtoreth keeping them occupied.” (from Only in Hollywood)
What about a New England Accent?
“Pahk ya cah in the rear so ma customers don’t think we’re bein’ raided,” said the woman.
Harry followed the two women inside. Before Jane looked at the copy of the photo from Evelyn Wright’s passport, she yelled over her shoulder to the L.A. cop, “Shut the doh-wah, honey. Don’t want any vermin gettin’ in the crockery.” (from Closer coming in 2019)
Try an accent the next time you want to shake up your dialogue. It brings added interest to your story. And when you “hear” how others speak you just might want to let some of your characters have a go at it. It’s fun and lets you stretch those writing muscles.
“I say, ’avin’ an accent is a bit of all right. So ’ave a go at it, guv.”
Thanks for dropping by. Write on. G.B. Pool