Friday, July 12, 2013

Creating Unique Voices with Dialogue

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

One of the best ways to characterize is through dialogue. The way people speak, the things they say---and think ... it shows the reader who the characters are. It shows what they care about and what they think of the world or their situation.

Here is an example of two characters from my book Captives. Notice how very different their dialogue is. It reflects how very different they are from each other.

       “Hi, Mason.” Jemma looked up from the flowers and smiled. “How are you today?”
       “Fine. Looking for Omar.” Unlike most people, when Jemma asked, “How are you?” she truly wanted to know. But if Mason had answered truthfully, Jemma would insist on more information. And Mason had no time for Jemma’s compassion today. “Have you seen him?”
       “Not since the harvest field this morning,” she said. “I hope you find him. Levi says your father might have made him a match.”
       “Yes, well, my father and Levi’s enthusiasm in this matter only enforces my skepticism.”
       “Mason.” After staring at the centerpiece for a moment, Jemma pulled a mule’s ear from her hand and threaded the flower into the arrangement. “You should be happy for Omar. Getting married would be wonderful for him.”
       “I’m not unhappy. I simply see no point in celebrating that which has not yet taken place.”
       Jemma practically sang her reply. “ ‘You can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.’ ”
       Mason frowned, pondering her words. “That’s not yours, is it?”
       “Anne of Green Gables, one of my favorite Old books. And Anne is right. So go find Omar so you can celebrate.”
       Mason left without offering a reply and made his way back across the square to the stage. He suspected his brother would have many baffling encounters with his new bride. How women could find joy in the marriage of complete strangers, Mason would never understand.

In Captives, Jemma is a bubbly, happy person. A romantic, who refuses to be hopeless. She wears her heart on her sleeve. Mason is practical and busy. And blunt.

Here are some examples you might recognize:

"Farewell, Daughter of Eve," said he."Perhaps I may keep the handkerchief?"
(The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis)

"Easy, Ponyboy. They ain't gonna hurt you no more."
"I know," I said, but the ground began to blur and I felt hot tears running down my cheeks. I brushed them away impatiently. "I'm just a little spooked, that's all." I drew in a quivering breath and quit crying. You just don't cry in front of Darry. Not unless you're hurt like Johnny had been that day we found him in the vacant lot. Compared to Johnny I wasn't hurt at all.
(The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton)

"It's been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will."
(Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery)

"No one wants to upset me! That's a good one!" howled Myrtle. "My life was nothing but misery at this place and now people come along ruining my death!"
(Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling)

"Don't you 'what Mama' me, you little Saumensch!"
(The Book Thief by Markus Zusak)

Mr. Neck: "We meet again."
Would he listen to "I need to go home and change," or "Did you see what that bozo did"? Not a chance. I keep my mouth shut.
Mr. Neck: "Where do you think you're going?"
It's easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it.
(Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson)

What are some of our favorite lines of dialogue from books? Post them in the comments.

Also, Stephanie is giving away a copy of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet on the blog of our friend, Roseanna M. White. If you're wanting to win a copy, hop on over there!


  1. I was just talking with my writing buddy yesterday about how my side characters need a unique voice. Thanks, Jill! :D

  2. I looooooove dialogue, and this is precisely why! Also why I love plays. Maybe I'll consider scriptwriting as a career. Thanks for the post, Jill!

  3. When an author masters dialogue, it's a wonderful thing. I need to learn how.

    1. Once you do, could you teach me? :) My dialogue tends to sound like how I talk- not much.

  4. Thanks for the post! You have no idea how I lit up when I saw the Outsiders quote... I know that book by heart! :)

  5. It's so much fun when you can tell who's talking in a story just by what they say and how they say it. It's something I'm trying to work on in my WIP.

    Anyone know which book/character this dialogue is from?

    "Odd's fish!" he rejoined quietly, "then certainly the game would have been up. I could but take the risk."

    1. Is it Sir Percy Blakeney - from the Scarlet Pimpernel series?

  6. One thing you should always ask yourself is, "Would my character really say that?"
    Like would Padme (from Star Wars) really say, "The only relief of this burden is another war."
    Of course not!! Padme is concerned with keeping peace and finding diplomatic solutions to problems, not supporting another war!! A character's dialogue needs to stay within the character's personality.
    Anyways nice post.
    I know I got a little off subject.

    1. If off-subject-ness means you talk about star wars, then off-subject-ness is one of the best things in the world. XD And Padme rocks!

    2. Ha!! The only character I could think up as an example for was Padme. I love Star Wars (especially the prequels).
      Star Wars is just another example that a well plotted story don't just make people like it, but love it!!

    3. I love off-subject-ness! The Star Wars prequels are awesome, but so are the originals... I love 'em all!
      Let's see, can I come up with an example... Well, Anakin definitely wouldn't say something like, "Please, Master Obi-Wan, could I drive the speeder?" :)

    4. Ha ha, yeah. I could NOT see Anakin doing that. What would happen would be that he would take the speeder without asking, and then get it all messed up/destroyed. Man, it's so easy to think of examples of what characters wouldn't say.

      And did you know that there are novelizations of all six Star Wars movies? I want them so bad... the movies were great, but a Star Wars BOOK...

    5. A Star Wars BOOK?!?!? Sah-weet! For my birthday, Mom? :)

    6. You can find a Star Wars book list on Wookieepedia, if you wanted to look. Just type 'books' into the search engine. Little heads up; there are some not-so-nice advertisements on there sometimes. :/

  7. I'm in the process of giving my characters voices. A few of them I have it down and it's pretty easy, but for others it's rather difficult. Thanks for the post Jill, it really helps. : )


  8. I love writing dialogue. It's the stuff in between, like having the right balance of action tags and just 'he/she said.' Hopefully that will become easier over time! (Or i could just write scripts)

    Kelly Ann