Letting Your Characters Talk by Mark Paskell


Mark sits at the computer, polishing off another brilliant chunk of witty, Oscar©-worthy dialogue.           

                        Well, that was simple.  It sure is easy to distinguish between
                        all the separate voices of my characters.  It just happens by
                        itself.  Now I guess I’ll go and solve the problem of world peace.



Ah yes, your characters’ voices… the way they speak and convey information.  What’s easy to forget sometimes is that dialogue should also convey character – consistently and unobtrusively.   Sometimes – especially when writing comedy – it’s very easy to fall into a repetitive style of “talking”; characters seem to set up and deliver punchlines the same way, the rhythms are identical, the phrasing is too similar.

So what to do?  Sometimes the answer can be mechanical.  I once had a character who was a real casual, laid-back dude, and a little on the private side.  A writer friend suggested to me to cut off the fronts of all his lines.  So his line “Are you going to the store?” became “Goin’ to the store?”  And “I can’t go with you” became “Can’t go with you.”  And it was really cool!  The change seemed to support the truth of the character, and also made his dialogue definitely a different shade from the others.  I’ve also played with characters that never use contractions, or ones that took ten words to say something when two would have sufficed.

But frankly, surface tricks won’t solve all your problems.  I think the real answer lies in digging deep – really deep – into the actual person you’ve created.  How can their personality be reflected in the words that you choose to come out of their mouths?  What facts can we learn about them by what they say (and not say), that are hidden behind the conversations and speeches?  This is the area where a lot of writers say one of their most thrilling experiences emerges from:  when their characters start talking “by themselves” and they are just “recording” their words.  It’s when you hit that vein of truth in a character, when you know that they would respond in a certain way.  That’s when it’s time to get out of the way and let these people speak as they truly would… as if we were just along for the ride.  Whatever way you accomplish it, the unique voices you create for your characters are truly an integral part of reaching your goal of creating a special world that will pull us in, that will stay in our minds long after the screen goes dark.

I firmly believe that some of the most famous quotes in movie history are remembered as such because of the nature and personality of the character that said them, not just the actual words standing alone by themselves.

After all, Rhett Butler would never say:  “Well my dear, I don’t really care what you think!”

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