Mario’s Tips on Writing: Dialogue that Conveys Character

Give me words, damn it!  -- Art by SYoshiko.

Give me words, damn it! — Art by SYoshiko.

Here is the last of Mario Lowthar’s tips on writing, until I can convince him to offer up some more pearls of wisdom.    Mario is the premier critiquer in my writing group and published short story author.  Here is the previous Part I, Part II, and Part III, and Part IV.

Why do I keep publishing what Mario has to say?  Well he’s published, and I’m not.  🙂

Mario says:

This is tough[er], because you have to find your own voice first before you can give voice to others. I try to start all dialogue in the same voice, then tweak to each character as I go. In the rewrite of ‘Lucifer’, both Father Crispin and Father Brenner [Characters that Mario has created in his short stories] are articulate, but Crispin generally speaks in a clipped, economical fashion, while Brenner with confidence gradually becomes cockier and more brazen, with shades of tough-guy talk, because he’s younger and has acted as a church mercenary.

Merreth, Lytanni, Jarll, Evvern, Cimmea (etc) [Note:  These are my characters] are all vastly different characters representing vastly different parts of their society, so their dialogue should mirror their standing, their education, their vocabulary, and their manner of speaking. They can’t all sound the same (only Woody Allen gets away with that). If this is ever a dilemma for you, try this exercise: ask them all the same question, and have them answer in their own manner. The question that I ask my characters is: What’s your problem? The answers always amaze me, and form a template for all future dialogue.

Unless I’m writing an interrogation scene, I try to steer away from question-and-answer dialogue. Gets stale fast. (What’s your name, boy? Evvern. Do you know who I am? You’re Lady Merreth of Sable House. What’re you doing at this university? I hope to teach. Why you do keep fumbling with your glasses? I’m nervous.)

Rather, have give-and-take dialogue. (What’s your name, boy? Evvern, M’lady, what’s yours? It’s not your place to ask questions. It is if I ever hope to teach someday. So that’s why you’re here. Why do you keep fumbling with your glasses? I’m nervous, Lady Merreth. Oh, so you do know who I am…) Much livelier, and you can usually get in all the information you need in the same number of lines.

There you have it from Mario!

I hope Mario’s pieces have helped a bit.  I know they’ve been valuable to me.


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