Creative writing workshop: It’s all talk!

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By Teresa Saunderseducation journalist and children’s writer

Help children to bring their characters to life using dialogue to convey their feelings and personality

All talk

It’s not what they say it’s the way that they say it! Ogres roar and rage, witches croak and cackle, ugly sisters shriek and squabble. One of the most challenging parts of creating characters is putting words into their mouths. Our language offers an endless variety of words to convey mood, tone of voice, feelings or intentions in any given situation. The secret of strong, lively dialogue is to select words that breathe life into the characters and drive the story along, unwrapping each character’s personality and motives as it progresses. This enables the writer to build a strong relationship with readers and allows the readers to react with empathy, emotion, understanding and enjoyment.

What characters say – and how they say it – can be manipulated to provoke certain actions, reactions or events. Minds or directions can be changed. Relationships can flourish or be ruined. Endings can be happy or sad.

Before the children start to write, encourage vocabulary investigations that will help them to explore the huge range of language available to describe dialogue – from lively verbs and adverbs to synonyms and alliteration. Increase their confidence and imagination with speaking and listening activities, based on conversation, discussion, debate and even disagreement. Challenge them to think about how speech defines a character’s temperament, how different tones of voice can completely alter dialogue’s meaning and how it may be appropriate to use well-known sayings or quotations. Have some fun with verbs which describe how people talk – is it a coincidence that so many of them reflect animal noises?

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