This post was written specifically for the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop.
Since good dialogue is something I tend to appreciate, I thought I’d use this month’s #AuthorToolboxBlogHop to give some thoughts and ideas about writing it.
I will be focusing less on what’s being said, more on how it’s being said and how character or situation can influence it.
- Keep it in character
Ideally, each character should sound different and be readily identifiable to your readers. Not an easy task but there are some things that can be added to help with that.
Is your character more likely to be formal or casual? Do they tend to be polite or are they rude? Are they expansive or quiet?
Do they have an accent or a particular regional dialect? This can be a difficult thing to pull off, especially if it’s one you’re not intimately familiar with. One of my later points might help with this one
Do they talk about themselves in the third person or a particular way they structure their sentences? Yoda might be the most famous example of what I mean by the latter.
Also, are they speaking their primary language? One thing to consider with this is that if someone is surprised, alarmed, injured or otherwise not thinking clearly, they may well slip into their original language before they get ahold of themselves again. Even if is the same language, there may be specific slang terms regularly used by some and not by others.
- How do your conversationalists relate to each other?
Frequently people will change how they speak depending on who they are talking with, or what they want from the conversation, so try having your characters do the same.
Are they friends, enemies, or completely indifferent to each other? Does one have a degree of power over the other? Is one seeking a favour or some other consideration? Are they flirting? These are all things that can affect how the dialogue goes.
Another thing that can and does happen (as I can attest) is the one party may start imitating the speech patterns of the other. Possibly to most well know cliche of this would be people mocking the Canadian use of ‘aboot’ but there are other examples.
- Does it sound realistic?
Harrison Ford is often quoted as having said: “You can type this shit, George, but you can’t say it.”
Regardless of your opinion of the dialogue is Star Wars, there is some good advice to be had from that. Try reading your dialogue out loud. Does it flow or sound stilted? If it’s the latter then maybe try another pass at it.
This probably goes double for accents.
- Body language
Okay, this isn’t dialogue-specific but I’ve had several seminars at various jobs citing the importance of it when communicating, so it feels wrong not to mention it.
Do the characters gesticulate when they speak? Are they maintaining eye contact? Do they fidget or play with any small items near at hand? Do they have a bad habit of cupping their chin with one hand and making their words muffled? (I realize that the last one is very specific and it obviously isn’t something I’m prone to do.) Any of these can add to the reader’s image of your characters.
So I hope this sparks some ideas for you. What are your methods for showing character with dialogue?
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