Editing Rant: Be a Dear

People Speaking POV Stock Photo

Image Courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Characters need to sound different.

After everything is written down in the initial spew of words – go back over the dialogue and decide how the characters sound. Are they from different parts of the county? Different education levels? Different jobs? How do they communicate? Is one a leader? Get a feel for who they are, write down a few quirks, then go back over the dialogue.

Character speaking quirks also applies to nicknames – not everyone uses them, and they definitely should not be the same for everyone. One book I edited had males and females, whether 70, 40 or 20, use the endearment “Dear”. Everyone. Every.single.character. Not “sweetie”, “hon”, “lovey”, “buddy”, but every affectionate diminutive between lovers, parent-child, or pals was “dear”.

People are different – do more than just hair color, eye color and height!

Patterns of speech are driven by many different aspects of a character. You can give insight to a character or situation just through dialogue. 

What assumptions would a reader make about the following?

“Hey hon, what’s ya order?”

“Sir. Are you ready to order?”

In both cases, someone is taking a food order at an eating establishment. Both start with an attention getting mannerism, followed by a request. Yet I bet you have totally different visions on how the food server is dressed, what they are holding to take the order, what the restaurant looks like, maybe even how their hair looks and what type of napkins are on the table. All from 5 or 6 words of dialogue.

Book Cover for Honestly

In Honestly, after I was finished the initial pass I went back and decided to create some differences so people could know who was speaking without any dialogue tags. Troy does not use contractions, being bi (tri or quad) lingual adds a precision to his communication. He is naturally very formal. The only time you will see him use contraction is speaking one-on-one with a child.

On the other hand Terrell’s speaking is explosive and highly related to either understanding something or sharing information. I changed some of the more complicated words he used to simpler constructs, plus adjusted the languages of those people talking directly to the young child.

As for the main character, Kassandra uses different terms of endearments when speaking with her son and her lover. I adjusted language for age of the characters, cultural backgrounds, and education levels. While doing that some of the actions of the characters changed as I discovered education levels and different upbringings. Learning how my characters talked taught me more about who they are.

WRITING EXERCISE: For you present work-in-progress (WIP) choose a chapter and review the dialogue. Or write about 200 words with two characters talking. Do their word choices match their profession? How about their age? How about whether they grew up in a rural or urban environment?

READING EXERCISE: For the book you are reading find a section of mostly dialogue. Based on the two or three pages what information do you learn about the characters based on their speaking word choices alone.