Character Speak

By on April 08, 2014 . Category Column

Remember the TV show, Dawson’s Creek?  Oh, of course you do.  Come on, sing the theme song with me.  “I don’t want to wait (pause) for our lives to be overrrr…”

If you remember the show and its characters, then you certainly remember their biggest criticism.  Around the world, people scoffed, “Who talks like that?!”

The vocabulary was notoriously unrealistic.  In real life, no one talks like that.  We don’t use these insanely big words in normal everyday speak.  It’d be one thing if the characters were some sort of niche group of individuals, but they were supposed to be representative of normal, everyday teenagers in a normal, everyday town.  To many, it didn’t jive.  Instead of hearing what the characters had to say, they rolled their eyes and laughed at the implausibility.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I watched the show and I liked Joey, Pacey and the gang.  But as an aspiring writer, I did take note.  Unless you’re writing a comedy, you don’t want laughable characters.  And you never want to lose your audience or their trust.  Once they aren’t buying it or they doubt it, they’re gone.  And then they never get to hear the message you’re ultimately trying to convey.

From this, I realized character speak has to be authentic.  Think about who your character is and where your character is from.  If she isn’t overly educated, is she using those $5 Dawson’s Creek S.A.T. words?  If she’s from a certain region, does she have an accent or use certain phrases or slang?  Are sprinkles called sprinkles or jimmies?  Would she say “cool” if she was living during the Revolutionary War?  If she’s from a certain culture, would she raise her voice to a male?  If she suffers from depression, would she have a characteristically upbeat tone and use jovial words?

Once you research her region and her time period; determine her socio-economic status; understand her background and her personal history; and get an overall feeling of what she’s about, then you can get inside her head and write as she would speak.  Jot down a quick dialog and read it aloud with a friend.  Did it sound right?  Did it sound like her?

If not, then write it again. If so, then write on


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