I confess it… I’d make a terrible trial witness. I’d be blotto about the make or color of a car, and I wouldn’t know if the person seated in the third row of the theater was acting oddly during intermission. But ask me about tones of voice, or dialect, or the nuances of someone’s speech…
Listen to voices
Of people hurrying by…
The way we speak sets us apart from the crowd, and of course fiction mirrors life. Characters may look the part, act the part, but the moment that character opens his or her mouth spells success or doom. Writers of excellent fiction can put down a page of pure dialogue involving many different characters, and the readers won’t miss a trick. The rest of us have to work at it, perhaps by playing with this dialogue-dealing exercise. In it, the writer places characters in a scene and makes them declare their individuality. Do you want to try your hand at it with me?
The four young people starring in this little exercise want very much to go to a concert. They have to convince their parents to let them go. The young people are:
Sara Monody, 14
Rachel Davidson, 14, Sara’s best friend
Kareena Jules 14
Maddy St. Germaine 14
Maddy: Guys, we have to go. Pauline Tree is totally the coolest. And I have tickets. Which cost a hundred bucks apiece. My dad got them from the office. For free. He always does.
Sara: I know, I know, I know, but Mom will never let me go, I mean, she will go, like, orbital if I tell her I want to go to a concert on a school night.
Rachel: What she said.
Kareena: Even if you have tickets, we need transportation. Who do we know that has wheels?
The four girls have speech patterns which shed a bit of light on their characters. Now, let’s fast-forward a few days and catch them as they come out of the concert… only to find that their ride for the evening has left without them! This time, no names. Can we tell them apart?
*Ohmygosh, he’s gone, he’s gone and left us, just took off without even thinking about us, and now what are we going to do? I’m going to be grounded like forever and forever.
*I can’t believe it. He has to be around here. Somewhere.
*We need to call a taxi. How much money do you guys have?
This dialogue might be exaggerated, but it illustrates a point. If you want to give each of your fictional people a distinctive voice, try putting them in a situation so that they can develop. You will see how speech patterns begin to form, how certain words or grammatical nuances emerge to fit each individual.
Give it a try… it works for me!