#21 Characterization – Using Dialogue to Characterize

by | Jul 27, 2020 | Writers Write

Dissecting Characterization Through Dialogue

Indirect characterization shows readers your characters? traits without explicitly describing them. It includes the use of action, dialogue, other characters? reaction to the specified character, and physical descriptions. In this article, we explore how to write characters using dialogue, because what we say and how we say it reveals a lot about us.

A few things that can reveal is our vocabulary, the diversity of words we can use. Additionally, it can show where we from if we speak in a dialect or accent or by the word choices we make. A character that says, ?Hey homie? is likely African American and from a particular area in America. Likewise, a woman that says, ?I do declare? is likely from the American South and dated to the 1800s, because women from there don?t speak like that any more


Using Dialogue to Characterize

How you speak depends on one of several things: Audience, Context, Background, Experience, Environment and Idiosyncrasies. We use different words and say things differently depending on these variables, so let?s look at some practical examples.



We speak differently depending on whom we are talking to. For example, if greeting our bosses, we might say, ?good morning, sir.? The same greeting spoken to our mothers might sound like this: ?Sup mom?? Your speech changes when your audience does. As a characterization tool, you can portray your character as rude and insubordinate if they greet their boss like this: ?Sup dude??



Different situations call for different ways of speaking. In an interview, we talk differently than we would on a date because we make use of different words. For example, think about the words you would use on a date: love, baby, roses, dinner etc. These words would never really be used in an interview where you would probably use jargon.

To characterize, use the appropriate words for the context to show your character is socially aware and understands this unless they don?t then make them grossly inappropriate. A great example is a creepy female boss who sexually harasses her male staff. This adds a stark contrast to the character, which just makes them that much more interesting to read about.



Your education, your upbringing, your family, and everything in-between shapes who you become. Your characters are no different, so take full advantage by revealing something about them in the way that they speak. A Harvard graduate might say, ?I disagree? versus an uneducated street smart person who might say, ?bullshit.? These are stark contrasts that reveal a lot about the character.



We all love to demonstrate what we know well, so bring your character?s expertise to the fore. If your character is a petrol head, make sure they use words, descriptions and metaphors only a petrol head would use. This wisdom applies to the different situations your character might find themselves in. For example, take a petrol head who stumbles on a dead body. This character will not start using detective jargon all of a sudden, especially if they?ve never served a day in their lives. Know what your characters know, so in other words, do your research and do it well.



Where you are from influences the way, you speak. People from Cape Town roll their ?R?s? more than South African from other parts of the world. Also, Capetonians, as we call them, use slang that is unique to them and not as well understood in other parts of the country. The same applies to someone from New York versus someone from Louisiana. For example, ?Hey you larnie.? This is the slang used by South Africans to say someone is pretentious and pompous. The fact that they say it this way reveals a lot about them. If you ever hear someone call you this, you know where they are from.



Lastly, we each have unique speech patterns and favourite words that are our own. We say these words or phrases so often that we are deaf to them, but anyone else hearing them would know that it was us speaking immediately. For example, one of my best friend?s nickname is Big B. Whenever I greet him, I always say, ?Big B, one two, one three.? There is a hilarious origin story to that phrase from our past, but it shows how intimate our relationship is. Create a list of words and catchphrases for your character and repeat them throughout your story, and you will find the reader?s readily identifying your character just by the way they speak.


The Big Idea: Characterization Through Dialogue

What we say and how we say it reveals a lot about who we are. For instance, it can reveal our family background, education, geographical origins, our area of expertise, and how we behave in different situations. This is a powerful technique to harness when writing a character. Spend time writing different phrases for your character in different situations under the category of each heading above. Then, say these things out loud to hear the music in the words. A good test is to write down how you would say the same thing and if it is too similar to your character, then you know they need more tweaking. Do this, and you will breathe life into compelling characters that stand out in their uniqueness.

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