From Adults to Teens and Everything In Between

From Adults to Teens and Everything In Between

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hunting Wabbits

Be vewy, vewy quiet. I’m hunting wabbits.      
                                                                                     - Elmer Fudd

Two remarkably simple lines of dialogue. And yet, you have immediately imagined a character; haven’t you? A man short in stature with an impossibly tall forehead, and not enough hair for a respectable comb-over. Wearing a brown tweed suit with a shotgun slung across his shoulder: one Elmer Fudd.

Would you have had the same mental picture had the character said, “Hush, for I seek to capture a hare”?

Nah, just not the same zing. Not only that, but the fellow who might say that sounds like he might have a hair up another place, so utterly unlike our daffy, befuddled Fudd.

One way to capture the essence of a character and really bring them to life for the reader is through the use of realistic dialogue. You’ve got to get into the character’s space and “talk the talk.” A character in medieval England will speak differently than one from the streets of present day Chi-town. A character living in New England will have a different dialect with different emphases than one that lives in New Mexico. Even here in Ohio, we can tell the difference between a Portsmouth native and a Clevelander.

A great master of dialogue of our time is Stephen King. In fact, in his book, On Writing, he talks about receiving letters, even hate mail, from people who mistake his characters and/or their opinions for his own. He has so thoroughly stepped into the persona of his literary players that some readers have a difficult time establishing fact from fiction.

Are you writing your dialogue truthfully? One way to help determine if you are is to have someone that you trust read your dialogue aloud to you. When I write, I constantly hear the words as they are being put on the page. I love the lyrical quality of language, the allure of alliteration. Still, in someone else’s mouth, the same beautiful passage that sounded so perfect in my mind may not translate into a realistic monologue or discussion between characters. No matter how lovely the words, if they don’t fit my character, if they do not resonate with what he or she would honestly say, then they are simply no good.

Language is one way in which to take a two dimensional character off the page and into three dimensions. Too many times, a truly gifted author will make the mistake of crafting an engaging story, plotting the action, even showing the reader the character up close and personal. But just as soon as he/she opens their mouth, the magic is over. Poof, gone up in smoke, all because you know the character really wanted to exclaim, “Holy shit,” but the author has cleaned their mouth out with soap.

Trust your characters to talk to you. Just be sure to listen carefully to them when they do.

Happy Writing!

For more from writer Beth Zellner, please visit:

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