The Power of Dialog
One way writers can quickly demonstrate the nature of a character they are writing about is to put that character into a particular situation and simply have him or her speak. I purposefully left out everything but the characters’ words in the four examples below to demonstrate how a character’s speech alone gives a sense of the character’s emotion, background, the tone of the writing, and a hint of possible conflict and/or humor to come. Don’t you get a vivid mental picture from these snippets? Of course the authors amplified and expanded their work in each case, but I wanted to show effect of the dialog in isolation.
Bette Davis is unforgettable as “Madge” in the movie Cabin in the Cotton, screenplay by Paul Green. When talking to a possible suitor, “I’d like ta kiss ya but I just washed my hair.”
Susan Ferguson’s unnamed character in the short story “Pearls” in her short story collection Gaze suggests to her writing group that they have a retreat at her farm. “What do you think? It would be primitive. It would be cold and there won’t be enough water. And flies— this time of year there will be hundreds of dead flies. And no furniture. Well, some furniture, but no beds. Not beds like you’d expect. Sofas. And there’s no phone. But we should do this. It will be fun.”
In Death on Demand, Carolyn G. Hart’s hero, Max Darling, hears his ex-girlfriend answer the phone with the name of her new bookstore, “Death on Demand.” He responds with, “Do you provide a choice? Defenestration, evisceration, assassination?”
In my short story “A Detective’s Romance” from my short story collection, Murder Manhattan Style, the character Mary Beth enters the office screaming and then explains. “Sorry about the rebel yell ya’ll. I thought I spotted some Yankees before I remembered I was in New York. Nearly everybody here is a Yankee. Of course, I’m not talking about Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and their lot.”
What is your favorite example of how compelling and enlightening a character’s words can be?