Ayobami Adebayo Recommends...

“In secondary school, one of my literature teachers would ask us to attribute lines from a play to the right characters. So, I prepared for exams by revising plays only after I’d covered each character’s name with a tiny piece of paper. My goal was to figure out who said what by paying closer attention to the speech patterns, and I soon discovered that how something was said could reveal as much about the speaker as the words themselves. These days I read plays for pleasure and to study how playwrights from Arthur Miller to Wole Soyinka create convincing characters largely through dialogue. I also do something when I’m writing fiction that stems from that secondary school study trick. After I’ve written a chapter heavy with dialogue, I take out all attributions and print out a copy. After I’ve let it sit for a couple of days, I read it again and try to pencil in the right characters next to each line of dialogue. If I can do this successfully, it usually means the chapter is almost ready and I’ve at last closed the gap between the voices I’ve heard in my head and the dialogue I’ve written.”
—Ayobami Adebayo, author of Stay With Me (Knopf, 2017)