Do you ever notice that the really great, memorable characters have sentences that are their trademarks? Marie Antoinette has “Let them eat cake.” Teddy Roosevelt had “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Patrick Henry has “Give me liberty or give me death”. They are phrases that give more insight into that person than a million adverbs, adjectives or flowery description could ever do. Even fictional characters have them. Scarlett O’Hara has “Tomorrow is another day.” Eeyore has “Thanks for noticin’.” Hamlet has “To be or not to be.” No matter who else says them, no matter when a person who hears them, the words call to mind the characters they define. This is the importance of dialogue. It isn’t just a conversation between the characters, it is a description of them. As a writer, the dialogue spoken by your character must be the character’s words and his or her voice. It is the only way to make them real, to make them memorable, to make them their very own person.
In college, I had to take a class on public speaking. Let me repeat, I had to take it. It was a required class. Otherwise, I would never have darkened its door. For whatever reason, my professor was obsessed with British television shows. We spent half our class time watching Hercule Poroit solve mysteries and the other half watching British documentaries. To this day, I don’t remember the professor actually standing in front of the class speaking, which in retrospect seems rather odd. Anyway, at some point during the semester, it struck me that we were supposed to be learning the art of public speaking by speaking more like Poroit and less like the people we were. Now, as a girl born and raised in North Florida, with a drawl to prove my southern roots, I don’t think I will ever learn to speak in a British accent. I do admit I’ve practiced speaking without the drawl, and have managed to control it somewhat, but it is there, as much as part of me as my blue eyes and Flintstone feet. You’ll never hear me talk about growing up playing the snow, because I didn’t. You’ll hear me talk about God and know I’m a Christian. You’ll hear me talk about the things I love to do and know I’m a homebody. My dialogue will define me the same as yours defines you, the same as our characters are defined by theirs.
Accents and dialect are important in creating our characters and having them speak, but more important is for what comes out of their mouths to ring with their inner selves. Every word has to be true to their character. Maybe every word won’t define them in such a way that generations remember it as theirs, but it should help the reader know them better. It should move the story forward and it should illuminate the characters who speak it.
Do you have a favorite character made memorable by their dialogue?
When Swallows Fall
Although Ophelia Garrett loved Cade Scott first, it was her sister he married and took home to his plantation. When Ophelia receives word of her sister’s murder and Cade’s arrest, she travels there on a mission to learn the truth. She soon finds the halls of Almenara are haunted by secrets, peril, and quite possibly her sister’s ghost.
Despite the cold, angry man Cade has become, Ophelia’s heart refuses to believe he is a murderer. Vowing to do everything she can to prove his innocence, Ophelia must open wounds she’d hoped were long healed and face the feelings that still burn between her and Cade. As everyone looks to Cade as the suspect, evil haunts the dunes and halls of Almenara, bringing death to two more young women and forcing Ophelia to confront the danger.
“How did Desi die, Cade?”
He lifted his head, his face mere inches from mine. Emotion clouded his gaze, and he opened his mouth as if he meant to answer me. Instead, a low moan escaped him and he caught my mouth in the hungry kiss I had dreamed of for six years’ worth of lonely nights. For just a moment, the reason for that loneliness was completely forgotten.
A cry rent the air, and I jerked away from Cade, guilt and alarm whipping through me in equal measures as I turned to stare at the maid who had finally returned with the broom and dustpan.
“Oh, Mr. Scott, forgive me, please.”
“No need for apologies, Susan,” Cade said, bringing the woman’s stammering apology to an end.
He looked at me, his eyes shadowed with pain. “I am the one who should be sorry. I’ll see you at supper, Ophelia.”
I was left standing in the hall with the maid, who stared at me with open disdain. Her voice was sharp and cold when she spoke.
“I thought you were Mrs. Scott, you know. Kissing her husband like that. It made me think Kathleen was right and she had come back from the grave after all.”
“People don’t come back from the grave, Susan,” I retorted, hoping my haughtiness hid my shame. If Desi were to come back to haunt the halls of the home where she’d died, I was fairly certain what I’d just done would be reason enough for me to be her target.
You can find When Swallows Fall:
Free on Kindle this week 12-10-13 through 12-14-13: Amazon.com
A Giveaway! I’ll give away a copy of Sweet Sacrifices to one lucky commenter.
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Bio: Romantic suspense author Gloria Davidson Marlow’s heart is firmly planted in the northeast Florida neighborhood where she grew up in a family of commercial fishermen. She works as a paralegal for a local law firm, but remains a homemaker at heart who loves cooking, Florida wine, and making pickles and jellies. She and her husband, also a commercial fisherman, have three young grandsons with whom Gloria cannot spend nearly enough time.
You can find Gloria at: