I met someone new at a friend’s house and when she found out I was an author, we chatted a great deal about writing.
It seems a lot of people have a book in them or something they need to get out and onto paper and I want to encourage that. We all have a unique experience to share and if nothing else, I think a lot of our loved ones would like to know more about us, how we see things.
I’m digressing a bit; she made the comment that although she has most of a story draft, she finds dialogue difficult to write. I thought that was funny, because I think it’s some of the easiest bits to get down. 😉
I think one of the first things to remember is that people seldom speak off the cuff in grammatically perfect sentences. I do my best to keep non-dialogue as grammatically correct as a non-English professor can, but think more ‘authentic’ sounding dialogue shouldn’t have that precision. People use ‘um’ or ‘you know’ or any number of imperfect things in their speech and depending on whether they are rushed, thoughtful, surprised or whatever, the cadence and construction of their sentences will be different.
So think of an imaginary scene where your heroine is surprised. “Oh! Well, I mean…” sounds like the beginning of a sentence that shows that emotion.
What if she was annoyed? “Hmm. I’m not sure…” implies thoughtfulness, frustration.
So if you’re writing a particularly difficult scene, try to think of what the first thing out of your mouth would be, and then tailor it the character.
People speaking extemporaneously about a subject they are passionate about will have emotional and cohesive thoughts because they’ve mulled over the subject a bit, so I tend to notice their speeches are less fragmented. Someone lying or caught out and trying to conjure up a story might be evasive or try to deflect attention, so how can you express that in words and a few short descriptive clauses? After a while it becomes fun, especially if you know there is a meta there – that not only is the character surprised but she’s trying to not show it, or perhaps she is charmed by the gesture that surprised her.
Another key thing is developing an idea of how your main characters speak. Everyone – even people in the same family – have speech patterns, preferred words and unique ways they express themselves. If you have any Brit friends you might have heard colourful phrases like “Bob’s your uncle” or “Taking the piss”, so do your characters have a background you can draw from? I don’t mean just a bunch of apostrophes and butchered words that are supposed to pass for some sort of accent and end up being a distraction if there’s a wall of dialogue; based on their background, hobbies, profession and where they grew up, can you pull in little words or turns of phrase that make that character feel a bit different? Pick a few that you think fit your H/h and sprinkle them in. You can even do this with an ordinary word, like ‘Terrific!’ or ‘Right!’; it doesn’t need to be much deeper than that, although it is nice.
Also, think about the way men and women use words, how their speech is tailored. Women often intersperse supportive or emotion-laden words and phrases, whereas men tend in similar circumstances to see something as a problem solving opportunity, or feel the desire to express strength and confidence. I’ve listened to many girlfriends moan that their boyfriends aren’t great listeners and offer advice to solve problems, when sometimes they just want support or understanding. I think that sums up the differences simply. =)
Probably the last thing I would suggest is to write the dialogue and go back and reread it, but only after you’ve moved well past that scene. See how the lead up, exchange, and subsequent story feel with the dialogue you’ve written. Sometimes in context of the larger scene or narrative it feels appropriate, other times you realise that it’s not as emphatic, (or it’s too strong!), for what you had in mind.
If you have any questions, please feel free to post a comment. =) I’m not always quick in responding, but I do reply eventually. Happy writing! =)
All the best,