Every Sunday, the feature SHANNON MUIR’S MYSTERY OF CHARACTER on SHANNON MUIR’S THE PULP AND MYSTERY SHELF focuses on the art and craft of writing from Shannon’s perspective, or gives you insight on her process as an author.
This special run from February 11th through 14th is to give a taste into this regular Sunday feature.
This installment is all about the hidden power of dialogue and meaning.
This is a combined and revised version of two columns that Shannon Muir did for a sister site.
I’ve talked before about dialogue and word choice. One thing it occurred to me I haven’t unpacked is the fact that words can have multiple meanings, or sound-alikes that can completely redirect and mislead if heard incorrectly by a story’s characters. If used correctly, this can make for a lot of fun in writing.
The hard part involves having readers that are able to understand the nuances in meaning, especially if constantly misusing sound-alike words is part of a character’s personality. In these cases, it might be effective to reinforce in description what a character actually meant to say in the dialogue, versus automatically assuming readers understand the word play.
How someone talks can tell a lot about them; so too with fictional characters. Word choice may indicate a level of education. The use of particular slang can indicate a geographical area of origin.
The topics a character embraces or avoids also indicates a lot. Does the speaker focus more on the character or others? These clues may indicate something about the inner workings of a character’s persona.
So look between the lines and see what clues a character’s dialogue holds.