Memoirist, copywriter and comedian Luke Ryan has an exercise to help you craft authentic characters through dialogue in the lead-up to his First Draft: Memoir in a Year - Characters and Dialogue workshop.
Good anecdote cannot exist without great dialogue. And great dialogue can't exist without strong, fully fleshed characters.
But far too often, the moment we make one of our characters speak, all the nuance and detail that we've built up vanishes, replaced by a more anodyne version of "literary" speech. Everybody uses language differently, so why can't these inimitable traits be part and parcel of the dialogue we write?
For this exercise, think back to an important conversation you once had – a possibly life-changing encounter with a parent or sibling or lover or perhaps even a random person on the street. Now write the story of that conversation, but do so only using dialogue. No set-up, no "he said" or "she said". Just pure, unadorned conversation.
Think about how you can use the words spoken to develop a sense of character. What are their vocal tics and crutches? How do their choice of words and the way they use them suggest motivation and background? On a more basic level, how can you make it obviously clear who's speaking at any given moment? How do you deal with pauses, interjections, hesitations? Perhaps most importantly: what does the dialogue sound like when spoken aloud? Could two actors read the dialogue and get a sense of who they're supposed to be?
Enriching your dialogue will enrich your stories. Use it well and permit your characters to be who you've crafted them to be.
About Luke Ryan
Luke Ryan is a 30-year-old Melbourne-based freelance writer and comedian. He writes non-fiction with a comic edge and in 2014 he released his debut book, ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo’, a comedy memoir about having had cancer a couple of times, out through Affirm Press. His work has appeared in a number of publications including ‘Best Australian Essays’, ‘The Vine’, ‘Junkee’, ‘The Guardian’, ‘The Age’, ‘Smith Journal’, ‘The Lifted Brow’, ‘Crikey’, ‘Kill Your Darlings’ and many more.