Talk Show — How To Let Your Characters Tell Their Story


One of the main functions of dialogue is to show conflict between two characters.

It should also be used to show a character’s emotions.

  • Humour. “My ex-boyfriend has only one annoying habit,” she said. “Breathing.”
  • Sadness. “He took two of the softest breaths I’d ever known and then he was gone,” she said. “When the nurses came to take him away, he was still wearing his blue identity bracelet—Baby Williams.”
  • Anger. “Don’t mess with me fellas,” Joan Crawford told the Pepsico board members. “This ain’t my first day at the rodeo.”

It is also a great tool for rounding out a character, making him more vivid and believable in the reader’s mind. Through the idiosyncrasies of his speech, we learn more about his true character.

  • His value system. “I spent a lot of money on women and booze, the rest I just squandered,” said soccer legend George Best. (Both telling and funny).
  • Catchphrases. Jay used the affectation “Old Sport” throughout The Great Gatsby. It’s part of what he believes makes him sophisticated. It’s a mask.
  • Contradictions. “I left South Africa for two reasons,” said Pieter Dirk Uys’ satirical character Nowell Fine. “Apartheid and the blacks.” Hollywood producer Sam Goldwyn said: “The scene is dull. Tell him to put more life into his dying.”

Dialogue can be a wonderful way to add humour or strong emotion to your story—or to show up a character. Whether it is a Mae-West kind of double-entendre or gut-wrenching Meryl Streep drama, dialogue is a great way for the author to step out of the way and let his characters tell the story.

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This article has 6 comments

  1. Josh Fredette

    Loved this post! Ironically enough, I went on Facebook after writing a portion of my novel and saw this. Lately I’ve been having difficulty making the dialogue seem natural and flowing. This was a good reminder for its purpose.

  2. Sarah Campbell

    Very useful. Thank you.

  3. Alex Leclerc

    Great post. No fluff, straight to the point, and great examples.
    Another takeaway from this post: Stick to “(s)he said” or “told them” to carry dialogue forward. Avoid adverbs, they weaken your writing.
    Look at this altered example from the post:
    “My ex-boyfriend has only one annoying habit,” she said snidely. “Breathing.”
    The adverb “snidely” tells you right away the character’s attitude and takes away the punchline’s bite. In the original line, the reader figures out the character’s attitude on the very last word. It comes as a surprise, and suddenly colours what she just said.

  4. Natalie Stear

    Top class!

  5. Jennifer

    That’s not what Joan Crawford said in the movie.

  6. Delores

    Alex, I respectfully disagree about the adverb snidely, because you can get the same effect with just an exclamation mark following the word breathing. It is more active, less passive . There are writers for every reader, and visa versa, its just a matter of preference.

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