One Writer’s Journey

January 9, 2019

Characters: Making Them Three-Dimensional and Realistic

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:58 am
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Earlier in the week, I was reading a Writer’s Digest guest post by teen author Lorena Koppel. In her post, “From YA to YEAH: 4 Ways to Keep Teen & Young Adult Readers Hooked,” she discusses a variety of things, including unrealistic dialogue, that turn off young readers. Among the topics in dialogue she discussed is “codeswitching.”

Code-switching, if you don’t know the term, is when someone switches between languages or dialects depending on who they are talking to. When I worked at the university, I saw this with the international students.  When they were talking to me, they spoke English.  When a group of Russian students spoke to each other, they spoke Russian.

When Koppel uses this linguistic term, she is referring to the different ways that we each speak to different people.  It may not be a matter of a whole different language or even a dialect but simply how formally we speak to one person vs another.  If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, you’ve seen this in the difference between how the Crowley sisters speak to their mother or father vs how they speak to each other.  Then there’s the switch that occurs when they speak to one of the servants.  The same thing occurs when the servants speak to each other vs a member of the family.

If you employ code-switching in your manuscript, your dialogue will not only be more realistic, your characters will also be multi-dimensional.  A pair of twelve-year-old cousins will use one vocabulary and set of behaviors with each other and another with their peers.  The way they speak with and behavior toward their teacher will be more formal and different from how they behave toward an adult they don’t know.  Add in a lack of trust and you can change things up yet again.

The reality is that no one acts one set way with absolutely everyone.  But too often our characters behave and speak in one way and only one way.  Use code-switching to make your characters more engaging and also more realistic.


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