Dialogue And Characters

Dialogue and characters are intimately intertwined. The dialogue reveals the character, and the character determines the dialogue.

Dialogue is a wonderful way to show characterization, and also the relationships between your characters. Not only what people say, but the way they say it, gives the reader quality information about your character.

For example, consider the following ways of saying the same thing. You might like to bear in mind that we don’t have any previous information about these characters, and also I’m not giving any actions to help with characterization (which I would in a real writing situation). But even so, you’ll get a sense of the character’s personality from the way she speaks:

“Now Jeremy, please don’t be like that. I really want to go.”

“Jeremy, don’t be silly. Of course we’re going, and I don’t want to hear any more about it.

”Jeremy, would you mind terribly – I mean, I wonder if we could go. I’d really like to, you know. But if you don’t want to, that’s okay.”

“Oh Jeremy, that’s not fair You knew how badly I wanted to go. I’ll be so upset if I can’t go, you know I will.” 

 “Jeremy … Jeremy … nice Jeremy. You know the way you said you’d do anything for me? Well what I’d really like is to go tonight. Hmm … what do you say? I’d really enjoy it, and I’d be very grateful.”


Do you see how the same sentiment can be expressed in different ways, and so how the thing is said gives another layer of information along with what is said?

Characters’ speech patterns

When dealing with dialogue and characters, remember that each character should sound differently from the others. We all speak differently. I find it fascinating to consider that experts can, in the case, say, of notes from hostages, tell if the note was the hostage’s own, or was dictated to them to write – based on the patterns in it such as word usage, phraseology and so on.

So be sure to make each of your characters speak differently from each other, and even differently from you. This is difficult, and I know it’s one of my own challenges as a writer. But the ideal is that the reader should know who’s speaking by the ‘sound’ of them, even without dialogue tags.


Some ways to differentiate are:

  • Speed of speaking. Okay, on paper you can’t read the speed, but you can indicate it by using less punctuationsuch as fewer commas and full stops (periods).
  • Shorter sentences versus longer ones. Some people speak in a very staccato way; others tend to speak more.
  • A builder will speak very differently from a barrister, for example. Also people tend to use analogies based on their own experience. So a builder might describe a mess as being like a house with no foundations; the barrister might say it was like a case with an unreliable witness and a cranky judge.