Tuesday, September 21, 2010
You do it every day. Women do it more than men. You probably started doing it in you crib. What is it? Talking! All of us speak, but we probably give the question “what’s for dinner” more consideration than we do to our ability for speech – or at least we spend more time talking about it, anyway! We simply take conversation for granted. So why is it, then, that creating believable dialogue is such a conundrum for so many talented writers? Ever pick up a book, get enchanted by the plot, then completely lose interest the moment the character opens his or her mouth? Sure, it happens all the time. You can imagine the setting in your mind, feel the scene unfolding – then wham – out of nowhere, the character’s tone or style of speech or stilted language jolt you right out of the story.
Here are some ideas for winning dialogue:
If you have taken the time to really get to know your Main Character (MC) then you should also take the time to listen to how he/she speaks. Does he/she have a dialect? Use a lot of slang? Talk with the Queen’s English or use more street lingo? Make the dialogue match the MC.
Beware of the “information dump.” Sure, it seems easy enough – you’ve got to work that back story in there somewhere; right? Why not just have your MC give a grand soliloquy and fill all that boring stuff in? Because it is boring is why. It’s a chore to read through a big clump of information. If it’s that important for the reader to know, find a more creative way to weave it into your story.
Limit the adverbs. Yes, your MC might say things “softly,” “loudly,” “proudly,” “bravely,” and a whole host of other “-ly” ending ways. Some editors will advise you to remove all such tags. I come from a poetic background and can’t quite help myself when it comes to adding color. Just watch that you don’t abuse the adverbs.
A lot of authors read their work out loud. To themselves. Okay, that’s great and all, but honestly, you just don’t hear yourself the way others hear you. Have you ever caught yourself on an answering machine or voice mail, for example, and thought, “Geez, who the hell was that? Oh yeah, that’s me!” Well, it’s like that. So have someone else read your work to you. You get an added bonus from this one – stuff that sounds good/makes perfect sense in your head may not translate so great after you hear it from someone else’s lips.
Be careful not to limit your character. You are not your MC. This is probably the most important thing I can say, so I will repeat it: You are not your Main Character. Your MC may say things that offend you – or that you (as an author) are afraid may offend others. Stay true to your MC and let their character unfold through their speech. Give your MC freedom of speech and you will be surprised at how much growth your entire work will receive in return from this.
Lastly, have fun writing! Writing anything – dialogue included – should never be something that you fear or worry over. Submerse yourself in your story. Close your eyes. Let the time and place wash over you, and then open your ears. What do you hear? What are they saying? Write it down! You will soon find that Main Characters have quite a unique way of telling you exactly what they want to say!