Dialing Up Dialogue


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.

*Me, too.

            *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!

"Lorelei" watercolor


About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: maureen@wartski.org/ My blog is here: https://maureenwartski.wordpress.com/ Or friend me on Facebook!

6 responses »

  1. Hi Maureen,

    I really enjoyed this blog. I have never really given this subject much thought but it’s so true! That’s how we can follow a long dialogue among different characters when we are reading. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!


  2. Hi, Marilyn– it’s true, isn’t it? Dialogue makes a book much more readable! I think writers develop ‘the ear’ early on, and it stays with them. Thanks for keeping up with the blogs! 🙂


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