Writers will often use their characters’ dialogue to tell the story. It can be the thoughts of a character or a conversation between two or more. Dialogue sets the story’s tone, advances the plot and can be used to describe characters.
When readers believe that a conversation in a book is authentic a bond develops between them and the characters. With each word the reader is pulled more deeply into the story. The character’s emotions become theirs. As the characters talk their voices becomes the readers’ voice.
Is the dialogue real?
As a writer you want your characters to talk like real people. For instance you can use a conversation of one character to introduce and describe another. Like for example a conversation between two brothers.
“Wow Sam! Dude, what the heck did you do to your hair? Man it’s short.”
Sam rubs a hand across his bald head. His thick lips turn down and he whines, “Shouldn’t have let her talk me into it. Been feeling weak since it happened. First she liked my ponytail. ‘love those black curls’, ” he says, mimicking a woman’s voice.
Sam’s twin says, ” Hey, don’t’ look so bummed. Time to grow up, man and get a job. We’re eighteen now. Plus you and me look alike again.
We know that the brothers are twins, 18 yrs old, have thick lips, dark curly hair and a woman is a problem to Sam.
Bottom line would two young men speak that way? If you’re unsure, talk is out loud. Written words on paper can look so pretty, nice, engaging, powerful, colorful etc. but spoken out…stop the bus! Reading your work out loud cleans up a lot of problems. When I was writing my novel I would go around the house conversing with my characters. Would she really have said that to her mother? In that way? With those words? What word would sting another? Oh, I could get pretty nasty when two characters got into an argument. My husband learned to ignore me or would throw in a useful word. The more you “feel” your characters’ emotions the greater you can call up words to convey them.
Make it colorful while telling. Have your characters laugh, snort, chide, whine, mumble and give them gestures to support their emotional reaction to what they say.
To help you know if your dialogue will speak truthfully to your readers, research. Listen in on conversations or ask another – maybe as the example above I’d ask a young man if it sounds real.
Age appropriate conversation is important to the readers. Say you have a three year-old character find a dead rodent – would the character say, “I do not like dead animals! It frightens me.” or “Whaw! Icky dead mouse! Mommy!”
Talk it over with another. When I would get stuck or uncertain about the conversation I’d use a lifeline and call a friend. Just having a conversation about word choices helped me work through my block.
When I read a word not associated with a particular time it tells me the writer didn’t do her job. For instance if using slang words in your story research the lingo according to the time the story takes place. Example: it’s 1966. Two young hippy girls are panhandling on Haight Street. One has met a guy and confesses to her friend. “He’s like totally rad.” Totally? Rad? Not in my 1966 memory bank – no words like that were spoken. The story would be ended right there for me.
Good dialog really perks up a story and your readers will remember a good line a character says long after the book is finished
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