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Characterization Through Dialogue
Posted By AdrienneGiordano On June 26, 2009 @ 5:00 am In Craft of Writing,Romance University | 18 Comments
Today we welcome Cathie Linz to class. Creating dialogue has always been my favorite part of the writing process. I love when characters lose their cool and try to talk their way out of it. I love when two buddies trash-talk each other and burst out laughing. That, for me, is the good life. Cathie is going to give us some great tips on making that dialogue jump off the page.
Cathie is the award-winning, bestselling author of over fifty contemporary romances published worldwide in nearly twenty languages. Her previous book, Big Girls Don’t Cry, was recently chosen by Booklist as one of the Top Ten Romances of the Year. Cathie’s newest book, Smart Girls Think Twice, is receiving wonderful reviews–Library Journal says, “With her typical sense of humor, Linz has given readers another joyful, laughter-filled story to savor.” Booklist also gave it a highly coveted starred review.
I write a character-driven book. I’ve often said that if I could only teach my characters how to type, I’d be in great shape. When the writing is going well, it’s as if I’m taking dictation, trying to keep up with what my characters are saying. And they tend to talk a lot.
So let’s look at how you as a writer can use what your characters are saying to let the reader know more about them. That’s not to suggest that your characters give their life story in dialogue a mile long. But the way people communicate tells you a lot about them.
The first differentiation I make is between men and women. They communicate differently and they certainly speak differently. I suggest reading You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen, which addresses the differences. She’s not a writer, she’s a sociologist (I believe) who studies the way we communicate. I highly recommend this book to all writers.
So the first thing you need to be aware of is the difference in the way your hero and your heroine converse. I’ve heard editors say that a common mistake they find are heroes who speak like women and don’t make believable characters. Now some of you may be saying “My husband just grunts. He doesn’t talk. Is that how we’re supposed to write our dialogue?” No, you are writing fiction so you want it to be realistic but not boring. Listen to dialogue on some of your favorite shows or rent DVD’s like Gilmore Girls (which is very dialogue heavy and uses it to show characterization very well). Luke on Gilmore Girls doesn’t talk much and he certainly doesn’t speak the same way the female characters do.
Note that men speak to men differently than they speak to a woman. The same goes for women talking to their female friends. Again, be aware of the differences. Janet Evanovitch does a great job as a writer of using dialogue to paint her characters. So do Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jayne Ann Krentz.
The next group for separating characters is generational. Each generation has it’s own touchstones. For example, the Baby Boomers have their own music (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones). Someone who became a teenager in the 50′s instead of the 60′s has an entirely different set of touchstones. Our 28-year-old or 30-year-old heroines have their own links – to cell phones and Blackberries, to iPods and Coldplay. If you have her using phrases like “Jeepers” you need to explain why. Because it wouldn’t normally be a phrase intrinsic to her age group.
Writing an 80-year-old’s dialogue is very different from writing a 60-year-old’s. Baby boomers are in their sixties now.
When I run into a stumbling block, I’ll often have a “story conference” with my characters and ask them what’s wrong. I’ve had the pizza delivery guy character ask what his motivation was (to deliver the pizza and leave <g>). I’ve had heroine’s complain the hero gets all the good lines and vice versa. You can try this story conferencing and see if it works for you.
Okay, you say, but I’m not writing contemporaries. I’m writing historicals. Well, the same would be true regarding male and female means of verbal communication. And story conferencing.
Even after writing over 55 books I still am surprised by what my characters say and do. For example, I wasn’t expecting Oliver to show up in my last book Smart Girls Think Twice (still available). He’s a great secondary character. I can say that without blushing because it feels like I’m complimenting Oliver not bragging as an author. He said some wonderful lines that cracked me up. And that’s one of the joys for me as an author. To keep writing in order to find out what’s going to happen next, what’s going to be said next.
I hope you find some of these tips useful in your writing, “Now get back to work,” I hear Megan, the heroine of my new book, telling me. I’d better obey.
How about you? Do you hear your characters’ dialogue?
Thank you to Cathie for visiting with us today. If you do hear your characters’ dialogue, please let us know by leaving a comment. We’d love to hear from you. If you are anything like me, those characters start chatting away at about three in the morning when you’re trying to sleep.
To learn more about Cathie Linz, please visit http://www.cathielinz.com/ . Join us on Monday when Kelsey will interview Christie Ridgway on the state of contemporary romance.
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URL to article: http://romanceuniversity.org/2009/06/26/characterization-through-dialogue/
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 http://www.cathielinz.com/: http://www.cathielinz.com/
 You Don’t Say: http://romanceuniversity.org/2011/01/05/you-dont-say/
 Author LynDee Walker Talks Dialogue: http://romanceuniversity.org/2013/02/04/author-lyndee-walker-talks-dialogue/
 A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: The Art of Writing Dialogue with Maria McKenzie: http://romanceuniversity.org/2012/11/12/a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words-the-art-of-writing-dialogue-with-maria-mckenzie/
 Handsome Hansel’s Point of View on POV: http://romanceuniversity.org/2012/10/01/handsome-hansels-point-of-view-on-pov/
 The Tricky Part by Laurie Schnebly Campbell: http://romanceuniversity.org/2012/01/13/the-tricky-part-by-laurie-schnebly-campbell/
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