Am I the only writer on the planet who catches myself wanting to rewrite the world around me? Some days it is all I can do not to correct letters from school and send them back (Spelling: A, Clarity: C-). Today it was dialog. I had asked someone a question and, in responding, she went off on a complete tangent. Fortunately, I stopped myself in time and didn’t ask, “Is there a reason the reader needs to know this?”
When writing dialog for your characters, remember that there are ways that fictional dialog differs from what we hear every day.
- You know what its like to get cornered by one of those people who ramble on and on. Boring. Tedious. Painful. You may have to put up with it on occasion but your reader will not see the point and will not be your reader for long. Shorter is better.
- We all use place-holders in speech. You know placeholders — those little sounds you make when your brain is trying to catch up. “Um . . .” “And. . . ” “Well . . . ” You may need to use something like this to make a point but it should be the rare exception.
- Teen characters should sound like teens without talking exactly like teens. Slang and dialect can make for choppy, difficult reading. Don’t try to take us there. Instead, give the impression of teen speak. To find out how to do this, read books that are popular with the audience.
There are also ways that written dialog, when done very well, is very similar to spoken dialog.
- Dialog should at least occasionally include subtext, that which is understood but not said. People use it all the time when they speak but when creating written dialog, authors sometimes forget this. Sometimes it comes about when . . .
- Questions are not answered directly. When we speak, we very seldom respond directly to everything we are asked. But written dialog very often resembles a ping pong match. Question . . . ping . . . exact answer . . . pong . . . another question . . . ping . . . another direct answer . . . pong. People don’t always communicate like this.
- Finally, each character should sound different from the other characters. Sometimes it is a matter of word choice. Sometimes it is attitude. Sometimes it is tone. In some way, character A needs to sound different from character B, not to mention C, D, and E.
What have you noticed when working on your own written dialog?