Create Dialogue That Fits Your Character

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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is designed to shape a not-yet submitted, rejected, or self-published manuscript with low ratings into a book that shines. The method can also be a guiding resource for writers starting a manuscript. See details below.

You may be so into the plot that you have a character say something that doesn’t fit his education, the time period, the area he lives in, his age, his job or hobby lingo, his nature, or his beliefs. 

I had a younger character use the word chum. My editor thought a teen wouldn’t say chum. That word came from trying to write a more unique word than friend, but I pulled in a word from my mother’s era. I knew better, but I was so into what was happening that chum slipped in.

Let’s have fun. Match speakers in the first list with the the most likely dialogue bits in the second list. I’ll put my number/letter combinations at the end.

Dialogue Exercise

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  1. Two WWII GIs
  2. Two 1980s teens
  3. Two Yuppies
  4. Two men in rural Blue Ridge Mountains
  5. Gang members
  6. Hostess and customer
  7. Marketing Rep and his boss
  8. Writer and friend
  9. A woman and her great-granddaughter
  10. Coal miner and class member


a. “Cuz, you strapped?”
“You know I got no gat.”

b. “Man, the sale was a bluebird.”
“That’s what scares me. It was too easy.” 
“It was an emotional sale, but I worked with the guy calling the shots, so it’s solid.”
“Was the guy a gatekeeper or was he the decision maker? We gotta close the deal with the guy that counts.”

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c. “I been digging for black diamonds since I was eighteen. Operated an auger.”
“That sounds cool, Mr. Hatfield. I’d like digging for diamonds.”
“Son, the diamonds I’m talking about are chunks of coal. Nothing cool about ’em. Mining for coal give me the black lung.”

d. “What’s buzzin’, cousin?”
“See that dame over there waving at me. She said she’d marry me.”
“That’s swell.”

e. Gary nodded. “Let’s do lunch sometime. Thursday?”
“I’d like that.” Sharon smiled. “I’ll pencil you in.”

f. Was Camden raised in an orphanage?”
“Grams, they don’t call them orphanages anymore.”
“Sounds like you don’t know his background. I don’t want you marrying
a goldbrick on the make.”

g. “I can’t join you for lunch and shopping, Kitty.”
“I thought you worked from home. And it’s Saturday.”
“I need to work on the galley for one book and the edits for another. I have to prep for a book signing, update my website, and answer interview questions for a blog. Working as a writer isn’t as easy as you think.”
“Yes, but you don’t have to travel forty minutes to and from work like I do.”

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h. “Take a break. I booked that party of five. I’ll seat them.”
Shelby gathered menus and turned to the group. “Follow me, please.”
The redhead sat and opened her menu. “Do you have any items besides salads that are without meat?”
“Yes. We have vegetarian options on page two.”

i. “Hey, mall chic. You in the orange blouse.”
Heather cocked her head.”You talking to me?”
“Yeah. You want to go, like, get a burger in the food court?”
“Gag me with spoon.”
“Nah. It’d be totally tubular.”

j. “She don’t like me.”
“If you’d stop hog-tying your tongue and talk to her, maybe she’d find out whether she likes you or not.”
“Would you put in a good word for me with her?”
“Might could.”

In what movie did you especially enjoy the dialogue?

Answers: 1d; 2i; 3e; 4j; 5a; 6h; 7b; 8g; 9f; and 10c

Characterize Your Character

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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is designed to shape a not-yet submitted, rejected, or self-published manuscript with low ratings into a book that shines. The method can also be a guiding resource for writers starting a manuscript. See details below.

A writer builds a protagonist’s character using a character arc. He develops the changes in how the character thinks, chooses, and acts throughout the story. The protagonist is able to do something at the end of the story that he couldn’t do in the beginning. Perhaps forgive someone or feel at home in a place where he felt like an alien. But this is not characterization.

A Definition of Characterize

The New Oxford American Dictionary says characterize means to “describe the distinctive features or nature of.” 

What are these distinctive features that are observable?

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  • Choices: sports car
  • Attitude: uncaring
  • Behaviors: goes to church
  • Career or job: lawyer
  • Dress: muu-muus
  • Dwells: High-rise
  • Education: high school dropout
  • Gestures: snaps his fingers when he makes a point
  • Habits: sucks his teeth
  • Name: Buddy
  • Personality: introverted
  • Physical traits: button nose
  • Quirks: dresses her dog in mini-sized replicas of her own blouses
  • Station in life: middle class
  • Sex: male
  • Speech: enunciates each word
  • Values: the love of money

The writer may tell these features. Or the writer may show them through the protagonist’s actions and dialogue. Or the writer may show them through how other characters react to the protagonist.

Examples of Characterization

Let’s see how we might characterize protagonists with their physical traits, actions, and dialogue.

  • Molly turned down Bruno’s help and loaded her twin headboard and stained armchair into the bed of her 1995 Chevy truck.

What this one sentence may tell us: Molly is independent, strong, and not well off, or doesn’t care about new things. Other sentences will make these assumptions clearer.

  • Trenton pulled on the cuff of his starched sleeve, revealing a diamond-studded cufflink.

What this one sentence may tell us: Trenton is well off and cultured, or wants people to think he is. We’ll be given other clues to help make a clearer picture.

  • Carmine sent her hands flying in all directions as she screamed at Doug for telling Marco about her day in the big city.

What this one sentence may tell us: Carmine is fiery. She lives outside the city, possibly in a rural area or small town.

  • Skylar grinned, showing her two front teeth were missing. She held up the furry feline. “I knew Daddy would let me have ish kitten.”  

What this one sentence may tell us: Skylar is six or seven. Possibly spoiled. She knows how to get what she wants from Daddy.

Of course, we can’t fully characterize a protagonist in one or two sentences, but we can learn a few traits quickly.

What features could you add to my list?

Buy Link

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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

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Wounded Heroines as Strong Female Characters

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I’ve heard readers dislike weak female characters. Recently, I published, “Show Your Character’s Wounds?” Together, these ideas may confuse writers. They may ask: Can wounded heroines be strong female characters?

Strong Female Character

First, I’ve compiled a list of traits I believe belong to a strong female character.

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♥ is multidimensional

♥ perseveres and endures; progresses forward in hope

♥ is independent but knows when to seek advice or help

♥ rises to challenges, whatever her environment is

♥ is intuitive, book smart, common-sense smart, or all three

♥ has at least one competency

♥ empathizes; helps others or contributes to society

♥ makes choices

♥ stands up for what she believes in

♥ is flawed but grows

♥ has inner strength to face trials and survive

♥ is essential to the story through her strengths and weaknesses

♥ is the lead; other characters support her

A Heroine With Wounds

A wounded heroine can meet the above criteria, but her wound has caused a flaw. It’s key she outgrows that flaw or doesn’t allow it to paralyze her.

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For many wounds, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi gives “OPPORTUNITIES TO FACE OR OVERCOME THIS WOUND.” I list three wounds and give examples of what a strong female character does to show she’s overcome her past wound.


HOME INVASION. When Ann was a child, a thief entered and stole precious items from her house. Early in the story, Ann obsesses over recovering a family heirloom after learning the sale was shady. Now, a fire demolishes Ann’s possessions, including the heirloom. But saving things never enters Ann’s mind while she rescues her daughter. As she hugs her daughter, she sees the heirloom as insignificant. Ann’s wound becomes a scar.

PHYSICAL ASSAULT. When Ella was a teen, a man attacked her. Leery of men’s intentions, Ella doesn’t go out with men alone. Then, she double-dates and enjoys Eric’s company. After dating Eric several times alone, her trust develops. She accepts a client’s dinner invitation to discuss business. He becomes drunk. At her car, he makes advances. She tells him to leave. He persists. She grabs his arm and warns him she’s learned how to defend herself. She asks if he wants to suffer the pain she’s ready to inflict. He staggers away. Ella learns there are safe men, and she can stand up to others who aren’t. Her wound shrinks to a scar.

A PHYSICAL DISFIGUREMENT. Kate has eye pupils shaped like keyholes (coloboma). She doesn’t mind people asking about her condition and is glad to explain that from birth a tissue piece is missing from each eye. What bothers her is when people won’t make eye contact or fail to listen to her because they’re focused on her pupils. Now, she teases her new boyfriend about his noticeable cowlick. He sighs and says, “I was waiting for you to go after my cowlick.” Kate realizes she’s no better than the people who frustrate her. Kate’s wound fades into a scar.

Wounded heroines can be strong female characters. Click to tweet.

How might a strong female character overcome being bullied in her past?

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Five scrumptious e-book romance novellas, all for $0.99 or free on KindleUnlimited. Here’s the link.  Here are the blurbs:





Candace Parks lives a passionless life in Richmond. The computer programmer returns to the empty family home in the Blue Ridge Mountains solely to evaluate her job, faith, and boyfriend. Her high school crush, Trigg Alderman, who barely remembers her, visits his Gram next door. Sorting her life out? How about nothing of the sort!



Alana Mulvaney’s life is in a holding pattern. Consumed by day-to-day operations of the family business, Alana has no time for fun or romance. But a little fun and a whole lot of romance is just what Alana’s sisters have in mind when they learn childhood friend Donovan O’Reilly has returned to town.
Donovan O’Reilly has loved Alana Mulvaney since he moved in next door to her at the age of five. But he broke her heart when he was forced to leave town, and now that he’s returned home to Winding Ridge he has a second chance to prove himself. But is it too late to earn her trust…and her love…again?


Toni Littlebird believes that when she meets the man God created for her, she’ll know—and she’ll love him in that very moment.
But then Dax Hendrick roars into Hummingbird Hollow on a noisy, crippled Harley, stinking up the air and chasing away her beloved hummingbirds. One look into the intruder’s eyes and her heart sinks. He’s “The One.” She’d been right about knowing, but wrong about something far more important: She will never love this man!


Cara Peyton is content with her life, her trendy Baltimore bookshop is perfect for her. But when her ex turns up to remodel the store, asking for a second chance, she’s torn and unsure about risking her heart again. Can he convince her to trust him, and God, before the job is finished?




Another Valentine’s Day and Quinn Randolph prefers to spend it with her sweet rescue lab. Who needs men and their broken promises? Especially Pierce Karson’s! Years ago, his desertion shattered her. Now he’s trying to steal the property she targeted to expand her florist shop! Pierce only wants to belong…and for Quinn to choose him. His Valentine Promise…