Little Women is one of those life-changing books that I go back to over and over again. I adore Jo (what young, aspiring writer doesn’t?), and the sisterly relationships are something I can relate to.
As I’ve delved deeper into the art of writing, I’ve appreciated more and more how incredible Louisa May Alcott is at her craft. But there is one line that stands out above all others in my mind:
“Oh, Jo! Your one beauty!”
There’s no dialogue tag, no context to tell us who says that among the mix of astonished reactions when Jo comes back with her hair chopped short. Yet every film adaptation EVER gives that line to Amy. Because seriously.
Who else would say that but Amy March?!
There’s plenty of talk among the writing community about giving characters unique dialogue quirks to set them apart–catchphrases, favorite words, that kind of thing. I’m skeptical of that kind of advice. It feels too forced.
If your character has a deep enough personality, you won’t need a catchphrase to mark her dialogue. It’s not about the words they say; it’s about what they say. Are they cynical? Critical? Optimistic? Naive? Tactless?
Instead of worrying about vocabulary, focus on personality. Your characters will take on a voice of their own.