It’s Monday! Monday! Monday! Today we’re gonna talk about talking! Ba dun tch! Or rather, dialogue. Dialogue is just as important in any story as description, setting, or action. If dialogue is unnatural or long winded it can ruin the flow. If it’s fast and witty you can get some good laughs. Dialogue can affect a scene as much as any other element so it’s crucial to make those words count.
I think the most prominent thing to keep in mind is how believeable the dialogue is.
Listen To Yourself
Next time you talk to someone on the phone or interact with anyone listen to yourself. Or better yet, record your conversation (with the other person’s permission) to get a sense of how people really talk. Do you contract a lot? Do you say “gonna” instead of “going to”? (I do!) Listen to your own natural flow of conversation. A lot of us have different writing voices from our regular speaking voices. Dialogue is the time to be as short and natural as possible. Go to a crowded place and listen to other people talking (without being creepy). What’s the natural flow of conversation?
Read It Out Loud
Once you’ve written your dialogue take the time to read it out loud. Does something feel strange to say? Maybe consider changing it. Do you stumble over a saying or does it feel long winded? People shorten their conversations naturally. I know some common advice is to read your entire novel aloud and dialogue is no exception.
Subject & Conversation Partner
The subject being discussed can affect conversation. If your characters are discussing a recent death there may be more hesitation as they’re trying to find the right words. They may use a different selection of words than they would in everyday speech. For instance, if someone died that term is usually changed to “passed away” in the presence of someone mourning that death.
Also consider who they’re speaking with. You talk to your boss differently than you do to your spouse right? (I hope XD) And in turn you talk differently to your children than you do to your spouse. Consider each character and how they would talk to the other person. I do a sort of MPD thing where I consider each character’s point of view while writing their discussion. Also, how does the character feel about the other person? Do they dislike them? Are they scared of them? There are many factors to consider when building a dialogue.
I’m a little particular about accents. This is purely my opinion so you do what you want, but something I’ve run into are accents that are like another language. First thing, I don’t want to have to read a sentence five times to try to figure out what someone is saying. My opinion is if you want it to be known someone has an accent, say so in the other parts of character description. “His southern accent is thick, “Hey there. How’re you doing?” I think that’s much easier than “Heeeey thar. How y’all doin?” Or you can say, like my friend Anne Coffer did in her upcoming book, “she speaks with an emphasis on the “s” and it’s drawn out.” Rather than writing out, “Ssssssso what have we here? Sssssomeone unexsssssspected.”
Another thing to consider is stereotypes. Not everyone from that land or country or ethnicity is going to have the stereotypical accent. If they’re from the same area they will likely speak the same as your characters. Otherwise it can really be offensive.
If you must put something unique in to put emphasis on the accent, I suggest replacing a single word. Like in the example above you could say, “Hey there. How y’all doing?”
The one exception is when you want your character to have a hard time understanding someone. This creates realism for the reader as well. Neither of you have any idea what they’re saying. XD
This is just my opinion. If you want to accent that up you go right on ahead. I only mention it because I’ve had to put down a book or two because a main character had an accent that was difficult to understand.
Consider how nonnative speakers might talk. I’ve noticed that when learning a new language we have a tendency not to take short cuts that native speakers do because we want to be accurate more than quick. We also don’t use as many contractions or idioms or sayings. If someone who is nonnative is told an idiom there might be confusion as well to its meaning.
Consider what part of the land they’re from and they may have a varying dialect. For example, in the U.S. in the north everyone says “soda” or “pop”, but here in the south we say “coke” for everything. It doesn’t mean making up a new or different word. I know what sodas and pops are, but I call them coke. We always say, “Do you want a coke?” “Sure, I’ll have a Dr. Pepper.”
In real life we shorten our words constantly. We speak in the most effective way possible. Instead of “I’m going to the store for some bread and I might pick up some milk while I’m there.” you’re more likely to say, “I’m gonna go to the store. Be back later.”
Here’s an example of the difference taking out a few words can make:
“What are you doing?”
“I’m just cleaning out the fridge.”
“And why are you doing that?”
“Because I spilled a bottle of V8 and I don’t want the shelves to get sticky.”
“What are you doing?”
“Cleaning out the fridge.”
“I spilled some V8.”
To me the latter reads more naturally both out loud and on paper. Then again it’s entirely subjective I suppose.
Something that has always bothered me in movies is no one says “hello” or “bye” when talking on the phone! In real life consider when greeting someone, on the phone or for the first time that day, there’s an etiquette. Introductions, saying hello, asking how someone’s day is. And in turn it’s polite to return the questions and answers. It’s just a little extra something to consider. In real life you don’t just stop talking to someone either. You end the conversation with a parting goodbye. Unless you’re angry I suppose, but that’s another example of how you can use dialogue to increase emotions.
Until Next Time…
I hope, as always, this helps to fix any dialogue problems you may be having! Until next time keep on keeping on!
Dragon Bloode: Covet is out everywhere ebooks are sold.