Look who's talking
Written by
Maria Murnane
November 2011
Written by
Maria Murnane
November 2011

First-time novelists often have trouble with dialogue. A common problem is that the characters all sound the same, so the readers have a hard time telling them apart. As a result, the readers get confused, annoyed, distracted, or all of the above - none of which you want to happen.

 If you want your readers to become invested in your characters, you need to bring those characters to life - and dialogue presents a wonderful opportunity to do just that! So when your characters speak, have them make an impression. Are they sarcastic? Jaded? Bitter? Happy? Sad? Pessimistic? Optimistic? Loyal? Funny? Do they use their hands a lot when they speak? Do they lower their voice when they gossip? Do they chew gum? Do they have a particular gesture or body tic that gives away what they're feeling?

You may have heard the expression "show, don't tell," and this is a great example of that. Don't tell us what the characters are like, let them show us.

Think about the people in your life who are closest to you. I'm guessing you can often tell what they're feeling just by their body language. If you can put that level of perception into your dialogue, your readers will come to see your characters as real people, not just words on a page. And if you do this well, eventually you'll be able to write a line and either think to yourself, "This sounds just like something Sally Smith would say or do," or "Sally Smith would never say or do such a thing," in which case, delete and try again.

When the characters begin speaking to you, they begin to take on a life of their own, and the story starts to write itself. And when that happens, you're on your way to producing a great novel.

On an unrelated note, I'm SO EXCITED! My second novel came out last week -- it is a sequel to Perfect on Paper called It's a Waverly Life. Two days before the launch date the stars must have been aligned, because Perfect on Paper (a romantic comedy dedicated to anyone who has ever run into an ex looking like crap) made it all the way to #2 on Amazon's Kindle rankings!

Seeing my book in between John Grisham and Steve Jobs? WOW! I think it was one of the best moments of my life so far.

Maria :)


Maria Murnane writes romantic comedies and provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Learn more at www.mariamurnane.com.

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2011 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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  • Olga Godim

    Maria, congratulations!

  • Olivia Boler

    Thank you, Maria, for the great advice. Having all the characters sound the same or having a kind of tonal quality that is the same is something I struggle with all the time, and it's apparent in much of modern literature too. And congratulations on the Kindle sales. Way to go! — Olivia

  • Martha Rodriguez

    Thanks Maria!  I write books and short stories for young children and your points apply to those genre as well.  I like to write from the point of view of the child and have to constantly remind myself that children don't sound like adults and don't do things like adults.  It's always fun to write from that point of view!  Liberating, actually!