Writing Dialogue – Develop Character Voice

I haven’t mentioned this I don’t think, but I’m putting fewer “writer posts” on A Christian Worldview of Fiction since I started my editing blog Rewrite, Reword, Rework. But because I’m a writer and because I read a lot of writing related blogs, I can’t leave off the writing discussion for long.

So today, in thinking about a blog topic, I perused a few of other sites and came upon Kay Marshall Strom’s excellent post, “Write good dialogue,” she said.

Kay finished with this:

Okay, that’s my ”get started” list. Any dialogue hints you want to add?

I thought a minute and came up with one—characters need unique voices. I added that not-original bit of advice in the comments and started to illustrate. Then it hit me! No, this should be MY blog post.

Characters need to be different from one another and recognizable by what they say. Not cliched, however, or stereotypical.

So I decided I wanted a challenge. I want to write a number of lines of dialogue and see whether or not you can match each to the correct character. I’ll put the answers in the first comment. I’d love to know how many of them you got right and whether or not you think I made them too cliched.

Of course the real secret to good dialogue is sustaining a unique voice throughout a novel. It’s one thing to write a single line that may hold context clues to what character said those words, but another to write line after line that maintains a particular character’s diction, worldview, vocabulary, accent, occupation, history, and so on.

Still, I hope this exercise might serve to illustrate how dialogue should reveal character.

So here we go.

The characters:

    a. teacher
    b. sales clerk
    c. freelance writer
    d. detective
    e. hospital volunteer
    f. butler
    g. athlete
    h. car salesman
    i. high school student
    j. stand-up comic

The lines of dialogue:

    1. “Y’all having a good time tonight?”
    2. “Will there be anything else, madam?”
    3. “No way. She said it was due tomorrow?” That’s so unfair!
    4. “I have a favor to ask. Can we make the deadline somewhat flexible?”
    5. “I can tell you have a good eye for quality.”
    6. “Weren’t we supposed to go on break a half hour ago? My feet aren’t going to hold me up much longer.”
    7. “Attention please. I have an important announcement to make.”
    8. “Here you go, Mr. Jones. I’ve put your water on the table next to your bed.”
    9. “He’s doing another photo shoot? What’s up with that?”
    10. “Excuse me, sir, are you the gentlemen I spoke to on the phone?”
Published in: on June 16, 2010 at 2:22 pm  Comments (6)  
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  1. And the answers:

    1. j
    2. f
    3. i
    4. c
    5. h
    6. b
    7. a
    8. e
    9. g
    10. d

    I don’t know about you, but I got them all! 😆


  2. ha ha

    I got ’em all, too. Fun quiz!

    I didn’t think they were clichéd.


  3. Thanks, Becky. Great quiz! This fits so well with my dialogue post.



  4. Thanks for playing, Sally. 😀 I also appreciate the feedback.

    Kay, feel free to use this any time (if you speak on dialogue at conferences, for example). I thought your post was one of the best—an intense lesson on good dialogue in a concentrated format. Glad you think this quiz serves as a good follow-up.



  5. “Thanks, Becky. I will! But of course I shall be sure to include an attribution to you,” she said emphatically.


  6. […] a short, fun piece (there’s a quz ) about voice, especially in relationship to dialogue, at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. I was playing off an excellent article about dialogue by author Kay Marshall Strom. Then this past […]


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