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How to Use Dialogue to Show the Character of a Character

Updated on January 22, 2015

A Tremendous Grasp of the Obvious

I swear to you, I’m not making this up.

I was reading a book last night, and yes, it was written by a fairly well-known author who shall remain nameless, and on Page 146 I found this sentence:

“He rudely yelled out ‘GET ME THE DAMNED WATER NOW!’”

Okay, class, can you tell me what is wrong with that sentence?

No? Well, then, I’ll give you a hint.

Stephen King once wrote: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

Now, class, can you tell me what is wrong with the aforementioned sentence?

Someone else once said, and I forget who it was, that adverbs are the tool of a lazy mind. Look at that sentence again. “Get me the damned water now” is a rude statement and I don’t care who says it, so why did the author feel the need to tell us “he rudely yelled out?”

The word “superfluous” comes to mind.

The point I want you to come away from this lesson with is this: the English language is a beautiful language with a multitude of tools at our disposal. Use those tools. Don’t take the easy way out.

So let’s talk about how we can use dialogue to describe the character of a character, without stooping so low as to use adverbs to do our job for us.

The lady in blue is a person I would love to meet....great character shows here
The lady in blue is a person I would love to meet....great character shows here | Source

The Character’s Attitude Towards Others

We can show attitude by the grammatical nature of our sentences. Let me give you a couple examples.

In the example I used above, “get me the damned water” is a sign of disrespect. “Would you get me a glass of water” is a sign of respect.

If someone is sharing an idea, and one of the characters says, “You can’t possibly think that’s a good idea,” there is a good chance we are dealing with a rude person who thinks his/her ideas are superior. If he/she is interested in other viewpoints, they might say “That’s an interesting idea; let’s discuss it further.”

As a general rule, an imperative sentence is almost always considered a command and thus disrespectful.

Bev is always in a good mood...well, 90% of the time, anyway
Bev is always in a good mood...well, 90% of the time, anyway | Source

Portraying Mood Through Dialogue

Dialogue is a marvelous way of showing a character’s state of mind without really stating anything at all. A person who is calm will normally speak in complete sentences. A person who is freaked out will speak in shorter sentences or sentence fragments. You can achieve the same thing by having one character stutter while speaking, or have them re-start a sentence halfway through a sentence.

A person in love will generally speak in a flowery way when describing things; a person lonely or bitter will be much-less likely to speak in such a way.

Similarly, a person with a hectic, fast-paced job or life will speak in shorter sentences or sentence fragments. They will be more likely to speak in commands rather than casual conversational English.

It’s all in the nuance, my friends. Listen to people speak in a public place. I guarantee you will gain insights into character and state-of-mind by simply listening.

Type of Personality

Isn’t this fun?

How do you appear to others who listen to you speak? Think about that one for a moment and let’s see how a writer can portray personality through dialogue.

Is a person shy or a people-person? Go into a store and ask a clerk a question. Where is the paper towel aisle? The clerk might say, without making eye contact, “It’s in Aisle Two.” Another clerk might say “Oh, that’s in Aisle Two. Follow me and I’ll be glad to show you.” Same answer but two completely different personality types.

Tricks of the Trade

Okay, I’ve given you some examples and things to think about. Now it’s time to practice what we preach.

What can you do to improve in this area? I know you’re asking that right now, so let’s let that question out of the closet into the light of day.

Tip #1: Go out into public and listen to people talk to one another. See if you can depict the character of a person from what they are saying. Heck, take a tape recorder and record those conversations so you can play them back later. I promise you’ll gain some insights.

Tip #2: Think of polar opposites and then practice writing a sentence both ways. In other words, let’s take the polar opposites of empathy and indifference. How would a character say something if they were empathetic, and how would they say the same thing if they were indifferent?

Tip #3: In the same vein, write down as many emotions as you can think of, and then practice relating the same message in all those different ways…anger…love…fear…and so on.

Tip #4: Slang and cursing are quite effective if used at the right times. If you have a character that always curses, it is impossible to gain insight into their character, other than the fact that they need a lesson or two in grammar. If you have a character who never curses, and they suddenly do, you have allowed your readers to gain extra insight into that character.

Tip #5: Remember that dialogue in a story or novel must have a purpose, unlike real life. In real life there are, quite often, meaningless statements that really have no purpose behind them. Not so in a novel. If you are going to have a character speak, then make it worthwhile to the reader, and use that speech to help the reader gain more insight into the character.

How would you portray this character?
How would you portray this character? | Source

Summing It All Up

I had a cousin who was a very excitable person. Everything she said seemed harried. It was like trying to follow the flight of a hummingbird in a windstorm, listening to her talk. She loved to say “this isn’t rocket science,” and she would occasionally say, “this isn’t brain surgery.” One day she was in a much bigger hurry than normal and she said “this isn’t rocket surgery.” I still laugh when I think of that, and it’s a perfect example of the lesson I give you today.

Writers have been given tens of thousands of words to choose from; don’t cheat yourselves when using them. How you use those words is just as important as word choice.

To borrow from my cousin, this ain’t rocket surgery, but it does take a conscious effort and a willingness to improve our writing.

Today’s lesson is officially over. Time for recess!

2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 2 years ago from New York, New York

      Bill, great examples above and love the advice of trying to write in terms of the opposite polar to see how dialogue can be conveyed in more then way. Thanks for exampling this here and wishing you a great weekend now!

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 years ago

      Well, again today you've given me some insight that I've never thought about. It inspires me to get out one of my hubs, a short story that HP put in the locker, and see if it needs adverb fine tuning. Then after a redeaux maybe I'll republish. I had to laugh at your description of your cousin because Mr. B is the master of the mixed metaphor.

      It also reminds me of something my boss said once when laughing about his family. He said that his brother-in-law was a rocket scientist, which "proves that you don't have to be a rocket scientist to be a rocket scientist." Have a happy fruitful day, my friend.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      "This isn't rocket surgery". Too funny! I call that "my tongue got in front of my eye teeth and I couldn't see what I was saying". That happens to me when I try to have my mouth keep up with my mind.

      Anyway, you provide great tips here, Bill. One thing writers really need to watch out for is redundancy. I can just see you cringing when you read that line on page 146.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine, and I hope your weekend is filled with great memories.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, I'll be laughing about that for the rest of the day. What a great line by your boss. Thanks for that, and thanks for the visit on this rainy Friday morn. Happy Weekend to you.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, there are times I wish I didn't notice things like that. It can ruin a good book very quickly for me. I love your line about the eye teeth...now that's funny!!!!

      love,

      bill

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      We can often tell a reader more about a character with one line of dialogue than we can with two paragraphs of narration.

      Good advice, Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very true, Will, and you do this so well. Thank you my friend, and Happy Weekend to you.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      As I've said myself, just a few times, and as you say here, we have so many words to choose from. Why don't people use more variety?

      Your pointers towards good character clues in dialogue are invaluable.

      In a similar vein, what about dialogue for mood? Personally, I think gesture and body language convey that best but there are ways within dialogue, although I find that quite difficult. So here's my question for one of your Monday pieces: How do you convey mood in dialogue? (You've probably already done something to follow on from this hub; if so, ignore my question!)

      Huge frost this morning but loads of lovely sunshine, then a bleak grey sky. We get so much in one day, even in winter! Enjoy your Friday, bill.

      Ann :)

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 2 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      I love this! Of course we need narration to set the scene and move the action along, but it's not the way I want to learn about a character. I don't want to be told endless details about them (especially with superfluous adverbs!). I want to hear them speak to others, or even talk to themselves if they're that kind of person. Great points about conveying emotions through dialogue - I'll have to work on that.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, I don't think I've answered that question in any depth, so I'll take a crack at it Monday. Thank you for the question. Mild, mild, and more mild here this winter. We might as well just call it an extended Fall. :) Have a superb weekend my wordsmith friend.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you jptanabe. The English language really does give writers a plethora of words to work with; there is no excuse for taking the easy way out if we want our writing to be superb.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Why do I love the word 'wordsmith'? I think maybe because it implies a craft, moulding and creating and coming up with something fresh and new. I'm happy and honoured to be a 'wordsmith friend'. Thank you, bill!

      Ann

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, I love it for the same reason. I hold writing in high esteem. It is a craft...it is an art form...and it should be treated with the respect and care it deserves.

      So yes, my friend, you are a wordsmith.

      bill

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      It's funny the way we usually notice when a line jars, and how we don't notice when it's well written. I suppose being a writer is partly about knowning what works and what doesn't, but it's easy to write stuff that is easy to write because of the very fact is is easy to write - great writing takes more time. Nevertheless, it's useful to have someone on our proverbial shoulders (billybuc, for instance) reminding us about those redundant adverbs, lest we forget. Good one, Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you FatBoyThin....you said it all...it's easy to write stuff that is easy to write because it's easy. LOL Truer words were never spoken. Listen, I can fall into the adverb trap as quickly as anyone, and I certainly think there is a time and place for adverbs, but they should never be used as a crutch or a tool of the lazy. Point made! :)

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Word count stinks. I think I see a lot of overuse of words simply to make word count. Maybe that is my cynical nature or maybe because I have caught myself doing it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Eric, I suspect you are correct. I think a lot of writers drag a piece out to hit the magic 1250 words, and in the process repeat themselves often. Thanks for that observation, and have an excellent weekend.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      You deserve an extra-good weekend for that! :))

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

      Today was the perfect day for me to read this, Bill.

      I often mentally take note of conversations when I am out and at times I take notes, on my notepad or laptop.

      Today there were two men standing very near my table at the local cafe which is tiny. I could hear every word without eavesdropping. They made no effort to keep what they were saying secret so I did not feel intrusive.

      Some day I may use their words in a passage. It was quite the conversation, very animated.

      Thanks again for a lesson in writing....one can never learn too much about this craft.

      Many Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

      Voted up++++ shared g+ tweeted

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      And I will have it, Ann. Bev is going on a girl's weekend to the ocean, so it's just me, two dogs,a cat, eight quail and six chickens around the homestead. :)

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      PS, I do the same thing when I am in a public place like a cafe. Writers really need to be observant like that. You never know when you'll be able to use a conversation like that in a story or novel.

      Thanks for that observation. Those angels are working overtime. I've sent them east and you should be receiving hugs and blessings shortly.

      bill

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 2 years ago from New Zealand

      Interesting article. My critique group is currently working on dialogue, and I have shared this out. I like the suggested exercise of polar opposites, or just writing the same dialogue from different emotions.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Just?!! It'll certainly be a busy one! Enjoy! :)

      Ann

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 2 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for another lesson! I always learn from you, Bill.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Humming bird in a windstorm. Great metaphor. Have you ever written about using metaphors? Original and not clichés. Like your hummingbird metaphor. The lesson on limiting the use of adverbs is an important one. For the longest time, I didn't understand all the advice to writers about not using adverbs. In a nutshell, "Show don't tell." For example: "He pounded the table with his fist. 'Get me some damned water.'"

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Rhonda. I hope the writers in your group find some inspiration from it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I know, Ann, right? I'm tired thinking about it. LOL

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It really is my pleasure, Mary. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Catherine, I have written an article about metaphors and thank you. I'm glad you liked that one. I'm pretty sure that's an original...unless I'm pulling it out of my subconscious having heard it decades earlier. :) Your example is right on as well and I thank you for it.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Ourselves as others see us. 'Hold the mirror while you admire me'.

      Something like that.

      That quote: 'Get me the damned water now!' could be the last resort after a series of civil requests. The first time would've been 'Can you get me that water please?' Second time: 'I said, can you get me that water, please?' Third time: 'Would you get me that water?'

      Desperation sets in: 'I need that water. Can you get me it?'

      I can sympathise. It's happened to me as well, but not with water.

      The way you see/hear yourself might have no bearing on the way others do.

      Sometimes we come out with little phrases we think are clever or witty. Then the groans come. That's one balloon popped, ego deflated.

      Then again we sometimes come out with corny quips on purpose and everybody groans on cue. Bam-bam! That's when you know you're among friends.

      Just don't come quipping too often or it's curtains, see what I mean, mate? As long as it's understood. There are many moments like that for Ivar in the RAVENFEAST saga, except not so modern-sounding - and his friend Saeward reads his thoughts almost as soon as he's voiced them.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      As always, so helpful for fiction writing. Your advice is extremely invaluable. LOL.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Alan, I have come to the conclusion that you should be writing these articles and not me. :) You have a much better grasp of matters than this old man in Olympia, Washington. But my secret is our secret...for now. If no one reads these comments, then perhaps that secret will be safe. :)

      Have a splendid weekend in Forest Gate!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 2 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      "A good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others." This quote touches my very being. You, dear Bill, are the light we have come to depend on.

      I appreciate today's lesson. I suspect I am guilty of using adverbs in some of my hubs. I'll be revising these hubs. :) I didn't know better back then, but I do now.

      Thanks dear friend.

      Love,

      Audrey

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Rebecca! I'm just passing along stuff I've learned over the years. Hopefully it will help writers out there.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Audrey, thank you for the beautiful praise. We all use adverbs....the key is to use them sparingly so they have extra impact and meaning when we do use them.

      Have a wonderful weekend my friend.

      love,

      bill

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Interesting topic. I once wrote a piece using a pair of old worn out shoes as a metaphor. I loved doing that. Thank's for another great lesson on using dialogue..

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruby, your creativity knows no limits. I love it...worn out shoes! Thanks for that vision. I'll be thinking about that all weekend.

    • profile image

      DJ Anderson 2 years ago

      Hello, Bill. It's DJ.

      I simply wanted to pop in and let you know I'm still around.

      Love the new picture of Bev. She's much too young for you.

      You know what that makes you? A dirty old man!

      Your answer is, "Every chance I get!" Ba-da-bing!

      Now, I know that Monday Mailbag is coming up and I have a very important question to ask you.

      Bill, have you cut your long hair, yet?

      Thanks,

      DJ.

    • profile image

      Kathleen Kerswig 2 years ago

      Great hub! I loved the tips to use in determining character traits. Thanks for sharing!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

      1250 words? Damn I'm under the limit! Guess I'd better start some conversations.

      At the end of the Catholic Mass, the priest used to say, "this mass is ended." A friend of ours after his first mass said,"this ass is mended." I'm wondering if the rocket surgeon could mend this ass.

      Voted all including funny. Thank you for another lesson.

    • clivewilliams profile image

      Clive Williams 2 years ago from Nibiru

      nice, still awaiting the ebook bill

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 2 years ago from California

      Yes! Preach it. I just finished Stephen King's "On Writing," and if there is anything now ingrained in my brain, it's that adverbs are evil. I've never really liked them, but now I sneer in disgust at the sight of them. They are a lazy writer's scapegoat. It all comes back down to the 'show, don't tell' rule. Simple, yet many still make that mistake.

      I'm reading a YA thriller that likes to go off, between dialogue and action sets, into long backstory paragraphs. By page 5, I was bored. Why shove bad writing down kid's throats? Shouldn't we trained them from day one?

      Screenwriting has taught me to tell a complete story, with a full character arc, in as few words as possible.

      If you ever see my writing get sloppy with adverbs, please take out your red pen and write me a nice note.

      "Deal?" the author said, humorously.

      I think I just threw up.

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Kay Badder 2 years ago from USA

      You always remind me that I need to work at my writing instead of just doing it. Ugh. There is so much to do. Thanks for another good one.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      DJ, to answer your question, Bev cut my hair two weeks ago. Now I don't need a haircut until next January. :)

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Kathleen. It's good to have you back among us.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, as an old altar boy, I find that hilarious. Thanks for a great laugh this Friday night.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      So am I, Clive. Hopefully we won't have to wait too many more months. Thank you for the reminder.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      LOL...Jen, that was way too funny. I left my red pen at the last school I taught at, so no worries. As for adverbs....I had a Hubber chew my butt out for suggesting adverbs were evil. I'm willing to bet they didn't like King, either. :)

      Thanks for the laugh and the great observations, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Barbara, hopefully you consider it a very gentle reminder. :) We all have to work at this craft. Thank you.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very beautiful and and one more most useful lesson from you. Thanks for always trying to improve our writing skills and knowledge.

    • Mark Johann profile image

      Mark Johann 2 years ago from Italy

      billy,

      This is a great psychology I could learn and will be used someday. Talking about character is sometimes confusing. Now, I have understood few tips to use in some situations.

      Thanks for making the hub.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      billybuc

      I wrote a long comment and hit the wrong key, and now I am back sans comment.

      Great hub and food for thought.

      Remember that I am analytically wired.

      I can see the example in several modes. Certainly, the one that you gave here. But, I can also make an argument that his use of the word rudely was given to the reader to hear the shouting in a rude manner. The use of the all caps is just shouting without emphasis on how it would sound.

      That shouting phrase could have just been monotone, while rudely would fixate into the reader the tone, and not just the rude words.

      The word dammed is probably one of the most polite words today, especially when compared to other choices of the four letter words ending in en.

      Also, the phrase, get me some water is more respectful than dammend water in a shout, but Please may I have some water would be polite.

      The context of the example is unknown as well as the normal demeanor of the character. If this is not a newly introduced character at page 146, then we would know how the character speaks.

      The comment using the word Rudely gives the phrase that follows a substitute for the inotation of the phrase. We could say that say shouting phrase in a number of different tones and delivery, and each could be connotated differently by the listener, while unknown to a reader.

      For example

      The person that would be giving the water could have been holding the water and the shouting just meant that the character didn't want to wait any longer for the water.

      So the thought is whether the writer was being superfluous, or was he adding emphasis, or impact by using the word rudely to preface the phrase?

      The use of rudely could mean discourteous, while the phrase is obviously rude but it could have been said in frustration rather than anger.

      As a stand alone sentence, rudely gives some idea on how we should hear it when we read it. With contest and previous character development we would be better able to perceive the meaning of the phrase at this point.

      The writer knows whether the phrase alone would be rude under the context of it being spoken, so why would he add the comment rudely, unless it wasn't that obvious.

      He could have replaced the word Rudely with Sternly, or Jokingly, or even frustratingly.

      I could have just been rambling in the bramble. lol

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

      the written word or words changed so much and so drastic.. I was having a conversation with a young adult and what bugged me was his speech... and he wants to be a writer too.... he keeps saying..." I been told my mother i was going to be late... and if you don't believe me axe my brother.. he seened me... hmmm.. I use his dialogue in a few shorts.. because even though it drives me nuts.. he speaks in that fashion... thank you for setting the words straight bullybuc...:)

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      No kidding! Word choice and syntax are so telling of what's going on in the mind, as well as where this character came from both geographically and developmentally. I'm reading this book "The Stuff of Thought" by Steven Pinker. Long, tough and technical book on linguistics and how the mind shapes thought and language. You'd appreciate it for sure.

      Happily voting up and sharing, of course! (Like the adverb?)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Venkatachari M....I hope this lesson helps you along your writing journeys.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome, Mark. Thank you and I'm happy that you found it useful.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Brad, everything you say is true if this is an isolated sentence....but in the context of the story, it was obvious to the reader that it was a rude statement and thus, the word "rudely" was overkill. :) Nice analysis, though, and right on in most cases. Thanks for rambling through the bramble and have a superb weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Frank, he wants to be a writer???? Well I am guessing that the young man in question has a little work ahead of him....great dialogue for a story, though.

      Thanks, buddy, and Happy Weekend to you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Heidi, from you I liked the adverb. I'll look for that book next time I'm at the library. Thanks for the tip, and Happy Weekend to you.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Ha Ha I loved your hub especially because we had to endure a family member yesterday evening. Thank-goodness this person is only once a year in our space, so we can tolerate her, but what a control freak! After reading your hub I was inspired to get back to my characters in my novel Parallel Worlds and I now MUST also get back to the self employed housewife sage and finish this ebook!

      As always very useful.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Great advice Bill and another reason it is so important to read over our work well before publishing it. I think we can pick up on those things about ourselves if we use a critical eye. Up and sharing.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Nadine, I'm glad you survived that family member. :) Thanks for stopping by, and best wishes on those projects of yours.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jackie, chances are we can catch them. I'm on my fourth read-through of my current novel, and I'm still catching things I missed. Sigh!

      Anyway, thanks for spending part of your weekend with me.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      billybuc

      I have been told that many people like reading books, rather than seeing the story in a movie. The reason I was given was that each reader can visualize in their own mind, but in the screenplay the writer has fixed the visualization. I say that I was told because I don't read fiction and I prefer movies.

      My wife most of the time that the book was better than the movie. I find this hard to believe in the case of the Bourne series because there is so much action to describe. At least for her, she can live the story that she reads, while I read a story but I can't live in the story.

      Probably because I had to read so many text books, reading isn't fun. I get distracted by my surroundings when I read.

      Here is a nickel, you owe me three cents. lol

    • profile image

      Travmaj 2 years ago

      Thank you for this valuable information - I do see the value in dialogue and the enormous benefits of using it well. The nuances, the accent, the words the character utters must define them. I'm often surprised at the differences in an English or Australian character...Hey - you really got me going..

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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      As soon as my daughter (a writer now) learned to read, she began asking questions like "Why did he use that word?" "Why couldn't he use this word?" It was amusing to her read, analyzing the sentences as she read. I learned from her, and your introduction reminded me of that. Great exercise - Tricks of the Trade. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom.

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      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Great advice, yet again, Bill! I will definitely be practicing it.

      That part about your cousin was funny. Now I have to be careful about my pet sentence, "This is no rocket science, brain surgery, or plasma state physics" haha.

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      Rod Martin Jr 2 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      A delicious sampling of ideas delightfully portrayed in a useful manner. Learning is so much fun when you have a great teacher doing it.

      I've soaked this up like a sponge. Dialogue has been one of my weakest areas in fiction. I have an occasional gem, but it has seemed more by accident. Taking the accident out of good writing tickles. Thanks!

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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very useful hub, Bill. I love your opening example!

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      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A helpful and interesting hub.

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      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      Good hub, Bill. I'll be paying closer attention next time I have my characters interacting. Thanks.

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      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      Interesting and explained with great examples. Describing the character of a character get tricky at times, I guess. Great hub, useful and informative.

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      Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I use spoken or “thought” dialogue to help define characters (especially in my long stories). You got me right where I live, Bill. This is a terrific article. I liked the idea about listening to conversations. We have to do this in order to add color and texture to the character…it not only helps to define who they are, but they become more accessible to us, and/or sets them apart from other characters. I always learn so much from your articles, Bill. Thank you!!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Brad, here's your three cents and my thanks as a bonus.

      I actually don't have a preference. I read a ton of books, but I see a ton of movies. I always hear people say that about movies...it will never be as good as the book...but to me they are different means of enjoyment, and I can enjoy one just as much as the other.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Maj, if I got you going then I've done my job. Have fun playing with dialogue....I think it's great that you got excited about it. :) Thank you!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Oh, Dora, I love that your daughter asked those questions. What a bright, insightful young woman. Thanks for sharing that with me...you made the day of an old teacher.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you for the kind words, lone77star. Dialogue is not easy. When I'm writing novels, I hope for one fantastic paragraph per day...just one....the same with dialogue...one great sentence that really makes a reader stop and think.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Alicia. I greatly appreciate it. Enjoy this gorgeous Sunday.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, DDE!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad you enjoyed it, Zulma. Thanks for visiting on this Sunday.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It can be tricky, vellur, but when done correctly it is very effective. Thanks for spending part of your Sunday with me.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Genna, it sounds like you understand this lesson quite well. Thank you and carry on with what you are doing. I'm sure you are doing it correctly already.

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      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      billybuc

      Three cents, that is a month of income.

      But it is not chicken feed, because the feed costs much more than that amount. lol

      While I am on the subject of money, there is an interesting thing that allows a small fortune to be me from pennies. With enough volume the pennies can add up to six figures or more.

      In California, I believe that it was some time in the 80s that some indeprendent contractors working on software for the banks. I don't remember exactly which one, but they setup their own bank account. What they put in it made them a fortune. In math, there is a need to round up numbers, and rounding up to the nearest penny was their game. They would take those pennies and save them in their newly created bank accounts. This over the course of time becames real folding money.

      Now if you apply the pennies from the hp accounts that don't make a payoff, the house wins, and the players just play.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Brad, if you remember the movie "Office Space," that's exactly what the main characters did and made tons of money. Perhaps the movie was based on that incident in California. I just don't see it happening at HP, but I'll remain optimistic. :)

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      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      Oh, I love to watch people and listen to how they speak. One can truly nail down their character if one is observant. When my daughter was very young, we would go to a beautiful and large water foundation where a lot of people were coming and going. I would sit while she threw pennies into the fountain. I can tell a lot about people too from their body language, such as you stated about the girl not making eye contact.

      Maybe you can address the issue of how to effectively portray body language in a character when writing? That seems to me to be a tricky one, unless you just come straight out and state such as ...she did not make eye contact. Just stating that will make the reader immediately aware that the person was not interested in helping, or too distracted or just rude.

      Thank you for sharing your wonderful insight here.

      I do hope you are enjoying a lovely Sunday afternoon there.

      Peace and blessings always

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      Richard Bivins 2 years ago from Charleston, SC

      @Faith Reaper, consider the following:

      With the fingers of both hands pulling through his tangled hair, Rick slouches into his wooden kitchen chair and watches his twin sons play in the front yard. A clumsy ball rattles the windowpane.

      “Sorry dad; is dinner almost ready?” one of the boys calls out.

      Rick smiles and nods then refocuses his attention on table of scattered bills and the overdraft notice from his bank sitting on top of the pink slip given him the day before by his former employer. He stands and opens the cupboard to find one last can of SpaghettiOs which, without hesitation, he pulls it down, opens it, then pours the contents into a pot, “Dinner is served; now what to do about tomorrow’s breakfast.”

      I think you can effectively portray body language in the delivery before the dialogue. (I read something similar to the above when I was researching for ways to make my dialogue and characters more memorable.)

      By the way Bill, those are some great exercises. My first college English instructor gave me an assignment to go sit in the food court of a local mall and just observe the way people were talking to each other. It's something I often do to this day.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Faith. You raise an interesting problem for writers...body language...and your solution is the one I would have thought of...I'll have to give it some more thought.

      It was a beautiful Sunday here; almost sixty degrees. This is the winter that never happened here in Olympia.

      blessings and love my friend

      bill

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Richard, you just did my work for me. Great example of body language, and I love that you still observe people. I can't imagine a writer not being observant like that. It just makes perfect sense to me.

      Thank you for a great comment.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Further to my comment above, I admit that dialogues in many of my articles have actually come about after reading one of your earlier hubs, Bill.

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      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      Thanks Bill, for further pondering on writing on body language to further capture a character. I thought of when it is obvious that a person is lying and instead of writing he lied to just mention something about his eyes looking away from her as he answered her question. @ Richard Bivins, thank you for the great added insight here. That is a wonderful example. Blessings to you both.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Suhail, that was nice of you to say that. It is very gratifying for me to read...thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for coming back, Faith. I'll see if I can't fashion some sort of article on it, or at least address it in next week's mailbag.

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      Molly Layton 2 years ago from Alberta

      Once again, you've written fantastic advice. A lot of new writers fall into the trap of relying on adverbs to convey personality in dialogue. I know I did. I still do sometimes, unfortunately.

      This is a well written Hub on a useful, unique topic. The various ways dialogue can influence mood, characterization, and emotion are clearly presented. I'll definitely have to refer to this when revising my character's lines, especially the one with a small cast wrapped in a blanket of implications.

      I should point out a couple of word choices that feel a bit strange to me. "Give me the damned water," does not appear to imply disrespect because there is no context. Maybe the character has a horrid headache or need to clean an incredibly muddy outfit. Maybe they need to kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Who knows? Calling swearing a "grammar" issue appears strange to me, but I can't find anything to indicate your usage of the term is flat out-incorrect. I'm probably wrong here.

      I'm looking forward to your next Hub. Have a good day!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Molly, I don't think you are wrong at all. Taking dialogue out of context is difficult at best. Without the supporting pages to help us understand, we are left to wonder when we read dialogue like that. Thanks for your observations.

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      Susie Lehto 2 years ago from Minnesota

      Thank you for this lesson, Bill. I will take it to heart and to my writing. There is always room to improve. - Have a great day!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Colorfulone, I hope I improve daily, and if that's the case, I should be one heck of a writer in about ten years. :) Thank you!

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      MizBejabbers 2 years ago

      Bill, I am re-commenting. After reading some of the comments about overhearing other's conversations and being inspired, I remembered this one. I was working as a temp in a state government office just before I got my present job. That was nearly 30 years ago, so I considered two men in their 50s to be "old men" and I frequently laughed at the conversations of these funny old men, but this one took the cake. Anyway it went something like this:

      No 1: What's a hair-branger? (he was reading the newspaper and saw the word)

      No. 2: A what?

      No 1: A hair-branger

      This was repeated several times, and I was quietly laughing my head off because I knew what the first man meant that the second one couldn't figure out.

      Finally No. 2 got a revelation, and he said, "Oh, a harbinger. You mean a harbinger."

      No. 1 answered, "A harbinger, what is that?

      No. 2 explained to him what a harbinger was and after he gave the example of the first robin of spring being a harbinger, No. 1 understood. By then I was nearly wetting my drawers. I've got to use this conversation sometime in my writing, but it probably will never be as effective in print.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, I'll be laughing about that exchange for the rest of the day. Way too funny, my friend. Thanks for sharing it.

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      missirupp 2 years ago

      Great tips and examples. "I'm damned tired and I'm going to bed!" I rudely stated to billybuc. LOL, I mean, "I'm damned tired and I'm going to bed!" I said.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Missi, any way you say it, it sounds like the thing to do. Thanks for the visit and the chuckle.

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      Victor W. Kwok 2 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for more writing tips Bill!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You bet, vkwok. I'll be by to see your latest soon.

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      VJG 2 years ago from Texas

      If I've learned anything from scriptwriting - it's show versus tell. Don't tell (or write) that a character is selfish - show it. Show the character being selfish. Also, subtext is important. Don't be "too on the nose." The deleted scene from "Saving Mr. Banks" (which can be found on You Tube) in which the character P.L. Travers refers to the "promises breakers," is "too on the nose." It was best that it was deleted.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Excellent advice, VJGSA. Thanks for sharing those examples...right on I might add.

    • VJGSA profile image

      VJG 2 years ago from Texas

      Ooops. That should be "promise" not "promises." That's what happens when I type on my cell at a BBQ restaurant.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I figured it out, VJGSA, but thank you.

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      Glimmer Twin Fan 2 years ago

      Ha - I just finished commenting about this subject in your Writer's Mailbag hub and here is an entire article devoted to it! Character can make or break a book in my opinion. With your articles, if I ever get around to writing a story/book, I'll have the best resources around to help.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Glimmer. I actually struggle with this in my own creative writing. This is a case of the teacher reminding himself of a very important aspect of writing.

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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Amazingly, if you really think these things through, everything that you have said is just common sense. I have learned though, in this age, people are sometimes in such a hurry that they don't think about some of these things.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very true, Deb. Most of what I say in these writing hubs is common sense....something many writers seem to skip over when writing a novel. Thanks for pointing that out.

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