Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Writing Dialogue

Dialogue is part of what makes a character stand out; it may even be one of the most telling things about a character. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but here are a few thoughts on the matter.

1. Listen to people talk. You don’t want all the characters to sound like you, so take into consideration how other people speak – the phrases and words they use, inflection and so forth. By becoming aware of the variety around you, you’ll have more ideas about how to give characters distinctive voices.

2. Be consistent with each character. Once you identify how a character speaks, don’t stray from it. This can be particularly difficult over a long stretch of time because you may forget what the character sounded like earlier in the story. If you’re not sure, review your previous dialogue for the character.

3. Allow your characters to break grammatical rules. Real speech is raw and broken. It isn’t polished.

4. Don’t try to capture dialects with sentences that are difficult to read. I hate reading stories with odd contractions that try to convey an accent: “He’da shun’t gawn ‘in dun s’well.” Fantastic! You’ve made me work so hard at picking apart your sentence that I’ve forgotten what I’m reading. Try subtler ways of reflecting an accent. Spell one or two words phonetically (e.g. “suh” for “sir”) or use words specific to a region (like luncheon).

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