Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dialogue: Showing Character

Thanks to Alexia Chamberlynn who gave me the Liebster Blog award on Sunday.
What a cute award! Click her name to visit her site and see what's going on with her.

Have you ever thought about the many varied ways people can say things? You can use these different responses to show your character's personality in your dialogue scenes. They are a great way to Show rather than Tell about your character.

For instance, think about the many ways a character could word his or her reaction to something negative, as well as to something positive:

Opposing or Negative Reactions
1. No way!
2. I can't believe you just said that.
3. Uh…I don't think so.
4. Yeah, right.
5. Gimme a break.
6. Are you kidding?
7. You've gotta be kidding.
8. You're pulling my leg.
9. Like, I'm sure.
10. That's crazy.
11. Forget it.
12. Nah.
13. Nope.
14. Ditch that.
15. That's the stupidest thing I ever heard.
16. [expletive] that!
17. No [expletive]!
18. Put a lid on it.
19. What've you been smokin'?
20. Oh yeah?

Affirmative or Positive Reactions
1. All right!
2. Right on!
3. Cool.
4. Awesome.
5. That's great!
6. That's freaking fantastic!
7. Shiny. (as in the TV series Firefly--or make up your own slang)
8. That's the best news I've had all day!
9. I'm sooo excited!
10. Omigosh/Oh my god/OMG/Oh my gosh.
11. No way! (notice how this can be positive or negative; context is key)
12. Woohoo!
13. Yep.
14. Yeah!
15. Yay!
16. YES!!
17. Hip-hip-hooray!
18. That's so wonderful.
19. Whee!
20. Far out.

All these reactions have slightly different nuances of meaning. They show different types of characters--consistent with their upbringing, social/economic status, self-confidence, vocabulary, energy levels, culture, etc. Such variety! Don't get stuck with one type of response. Choose the responses that fit your characters, and keep the usage consistent.

Can you add to this list of positive or negative reactions?
How would the character in YOUR novel react to either good or bad news, or both?
Have you ever thought about how these subtle differences relate to your characters and your dialogue scenes? Have you made adjustments for consistency?


  1. Great post.

    "Whoa!" could go either way.

  2. Love this post and congrats on your award!
    "Shut up!" That could go either way, too. :)

  3. My personal favorites include: I am amused, that's epic, and DUDE.

  4. Love this list! I like a good, Whatever!

  5. Interesting it's true the way we speak says a lot of us and our characters!

  6. Hi Carol, congratulations on the award. Here's some response I like.

    'For real, real!' Said in excitement at some welcoming prospect by pre-teen girls especially of the African-American variety.

    "It's tight', 'it's sick' meaning really cool.

    'My bad' acknowledging ones mistake.

  7. This is an excellent point, Carol! I love thinking about how characters will react to different situations, and especially how they're reactions will be different depending on which other characters are around.

  8. It's funny when people respond to a question, and instead of saying yes, they ask an obvious yes-response answer:

    Like, "Hey Lydia, do you like bacon?"
    "Do pigs like stinky mud?"

  9. Such a good point, Carol! It's so easy to get stuck writing characters who all sound alike. It's fun to see how differently we all can say the same thing. :)

  10. Wow!

    What a list!

    Great post!

  11. There are so many ways to say something--this is one element I'm trying to focus on for my current WIP, because my MC has a unique voice, and in my head she's full of snarky comments. I have to get them down right. :P

    Great post!

  12. Greetings from the Amish community of Lebanon,Pa. Richard from Amish Stories.

  13. "sick" My teenage son's favorite word. :)

  14. lol, great list. I know one of my characters would simply snort :P

  15. one of my favorites is from a computer game character, Moira, who says, "Absolutely!"

  16. Nice collection. I like to use The Book Muse as a good brain trigger with their Emotional Thesaurus (and more).

  17. Ha! I use Dude! Cool! or righteous for expressions. I' a caliornian; what can I say . .

    I agree, the specific verbiage for emotions can go a lot ways for character development.


  18. Congrats on being Liebstered! It seems that someone grew tired of using the same expressions and came up with a ton. It's funny how all these change during the years, although "Hey dude" still appears to be kicking. :)

  19. Congrats on the award!

    With so many words that mean almost the same thing, it's no wonder English is one of the hardest languages to learn. A writer's paradise, IMO.

  20. you left off the all-important "Word." And of course, "Get OUT!" :D <3

  21. wondering if we are related. My grandmother was a Riggs.
    As far as negatives and positives go in reactions I believe it depends on what generation you are in as to how the reaction is given and or interpreted. Using the correct one then gives an age to your character.
    Margaret L. Turley

  22. Great post, Carol. Dialogue does my head in sometimes. It's so hard to write!

  23. Hi, Carol! I agree - these are great lists and something to really think about when writing. The elusive "they" always say that we need our characters to be distinct and recognizable, just from reading their dialogue sometimes.

    I'd add "Screw that!", "Nice.", and "Talk to the hand." to your list. :)

  24. Congratulations on your award. I love this post, it reminds me to be more creative! I have to second the person who said "Dude." Although if I get really excited I'll often exclaim "Love It!"

  25. Congrats on the award and I love the list.

  26. Those are quite the lists! I don't think I have any more to add... but you bring up such a great point. Canned responses are the worst. I also like to remember the best way for a character to answer a question is not to answer at all. Change the subject or scratch their head, etc.

  27. Congrats on the award! Neat blog:)

  28. My kids always have the best sayings for these. :D

  29. Hey you! This is Susan Mills. Blogger is being a pain in the you know what for me today. It won't let me comment on some sites with my user name. It's making me do it anonymously. Anyway, missed you and can't wait to catch up. Congrats on the agent! Too exciting!!!!! Or maybe I should say, Far out, Dude!

  30. It's funny how the words we choose reveal so much about us--or whether we respond with words at all. I like Matthew M's comment about how a character's reactions will be different, depending on who is around. Nice post!

  31. Great perspective! What an effective way to differentiate, and it's pretty subconscience to the reader. For the possitive, I'd like to add "Huzzah!" A personal favorite, ot "Tickety-boo," or when I'm comfortable with my audience, "Tickity-Fu*****-Boo."

  32. hey, just wanted to stop by to let you know that you have an award on my blog. :-)

  33. yes, show not tell i heard for years and still hear in my head and yet it's somehow easy to forget so we need to be reminded, and thanks for that:) here from the rainy day wanderer.


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