|14:46 Edinburgh (Regent Road) to
Stirling bus station via Kirkliston, Bridgend, Linlithgow and Polmont|
Photo by Ingy the Wingy, via Flickr
You can tell us – in detail – what a character looks like. You can even tell us what kind of voice a character has (squeaky, gruff, sexy, etc.). But the single biggest challenge for the writer is the question: how much information can you convey about a given character on the strength of dialogue alone? Ideally, your readers should be able to distinguish which character is speaking on the strength of diction, grammar, and syntax, and speech mannerisms indicative of age, gender, and cultural background.
To illustrate the point, I’ve prepared two sample scripts.
I want to go to the train station. Is this the right bus stop?
Yes, but you’ve just missed it.
That’s unlucky. How long will it be until another bus comes along?
According to the schedule, it will be about a quarter of an hour.
Do these buses usually run on time?
That depends on how heavy the traffic is. If you’re in a hurry you could take a taxi.
That would be expensive.
You’re right. If you have the time to spare, it’s more economical to wait.
I wish there was someplace to sit down. My feet are tired.
Now the quiz:
1. How many speakers do you detect here?
2. Based solely on the content of the dialogue, what personal information can you deduce about the speakers?
Ok, let’s try this again.
Please, I want the train station. This is the right bus stop?
Aye, mate, but if you’re wanting the Number 5 to Kirkliston, you’ve just missed it.
Ach, no! Will another bus come soon?
The timetable is posted here on the wall. Let me see if I can make sense of it for you. Oh yes, here you are: the next Number 5 should be along in about fifteen minutes.
These buses run on time?
Only when you’re running late. No, seriously: the traffic’s hellish this time of day when the schools let out. I have to leave my flat at half past two every day to pick up my kid at half past three.
Sorry: I couldn’t help overhearing. If you’re in a hurry, you could always take a taxi.
I wouldn’t advise it, pal, unless you’re a merchant banker.
That’s very true. It really is shocking what cab drivers charge these days! My late-husband would be scandalized. If you aren’t pushed for time, it’s probably worth waiting.
Ma! Ma! I’m tired. I wanna sit down.
Ok, now take the quiz again.
See the difference? ‘Nuff said.
Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.