When I mention using words as part of character development, I’m not just talking about writing dialogue. Dialogue can progress the plot and reveal thoughts, but the words your character chooses to use reveal much more than those.
Here are a few things your character’s word choice reveal, well, his or her character:
- Dialect: Dialect reveals not only where a person grew up, but also what economic class she might Gail from.
- Grammar: How educated is your character?
- Slang use: How proper is your character, or how proper does he wish to be perceived? Does she use proper English in one setting and revert to cussing like a sailor in another?
- Speaking with kindness: Does your character take care to be verbally gentle with others, or does she rip them apart the moment they make a mistake and display weakness?
- Speaking with Contempt: Generally, authors reserve this for villains, but your hero might despise another character and speak to him with vitriol flowing from his lips. If your character views others as being beneath him, this will come out in his words.
- Temperament: A hot head can switch from “gushy sweet” to “hide the sharp objects” in a few nanoseconds. A more patient person will keep her temper (and therefore keep the words) from flying.
- Wit: Your character might be very witty, and this will come out in her words.
- Surly/sarcasm: Your character may be a Debbie Downer or full of sarcasm. This can reveal a bit of what is going on inside his head without out and out telling your reader, “Jack was annoyed with his lot in life.”
- Words not matching actions: I love the interplay of words and actions, especially when they don’t match. Think of the verbally harsh sergeant who would do anything to protect his soldiers.
- Verbal self defense: When does your character choose to defend himself? One of my favorite lines in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back occurs after Princess Leia tells Han Solo he’s a “stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking need herder.” Han’s immediate reply, “Who’s scruffy looking?” implies that the other insults didn’t phase him much.
When you are building your characters, be sure to write their dialogue in such a way that you can just replace one character with another without major rewrites. Give them their own speech patterns. It will make them feel more real, making the reader more likely to buy into the story.
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Fantasy, steampunk, pulp, and paranormal novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. To receive notification of M. B. Weston’s book releases click here to subscribe to Dark Oak Press & Media’s e-newsletter.