RedPen Editing
Differentiating dialogue

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People who went to the same school, or were brought up together, or work or play together, tend to mimic each other, not just in their mannerisms but also in their vocabulary and how they speak, without even noticing.

In fiction, though, a reader needs to be able to distinguish between characters, and this can be achieved by making sure the various characters speak differently.

So, rather than just varying them in appearance – height, weight, gender, eye colour, hair colour, social standing, etc – it’s important to establish their manner of speaking:

  • Be aware of the subset of words they choose to use, ie the words you put into their mouth.
  • Be aware of the length of their spoken (or thought) sentences.
  • Be aware of how they address other characters. This can indicate their social positioning, the pecking order of your characters.

When writing, hopefully this differentiated style will be automatic. If not, this aspect of your writing can be addressed to good effect during the editing of the first draft.

  • Look at the dialogue of a single character, in isolation from all else, and notice what ‘style’ you have applied, without maybe even thinking about it.
  • Make a conscious decision as to how this character should speak, and make notes in your character sketch so you have him/her clearly drawn.
  • Then, move on to the next character and repeat the exercise.
  • Repeat until all dialogue of every character has been examined and ‘approved’.