Friday, April 1, 2011

Dialogue: How True To Life Should It Be?

This is my third article published by Kalkion in 2009.

Some writers can construct their character’s dialogue with ease, while others may find it more difficult. The question of how similar to real speech your dialogue should be is an important one.When writing dialogue in a fiction story you can’t duplicate human speech as it really is, otherwise your story would be loaded down with umm’s, ahh’s, pauses, and pointless chit chat.

It’s important that every line of dialogue move the story forward. Your character’s conversations with each other should serve to show your reader more about them, their relationship to each other, and the situation they’re in.

This is not to say your characters should never engage in day to day type conversations, but only that such conversation should have a purpose, not be there simply to boost your word count or to fill in empty spaces between the more important scenes of your story.

Another thing to avoid is having your characters constantly address the person they are speaking to by name.

“Hi Bill, how are you today?”

“Just fine Mary, and how are you?”

“Why, I’m just fine too, Bill.”

This will soon grow tedious. Your characters’s manner of speech and the words they use should be enough to tell your reader who is speaking.

But avoid the dreaded talking head syndrome:

“Hi, how are you today?"

“Fine and how are you?”

“Why, I’m fine too.”

It’s good to throw in a few he said/she said’s or even Bill said/Mary said, but the latter is best used at the beginning of the conversation or if more than two people are speaking. Another way to avoid constantly using he said/she said is to throw in the occasional descriptive passage or some sort action for your character.

“Hi Bill, how have you been?” Mary asked.

“Just fine, and how are you?”

“I’m fine.” She avoided his eyes as she spoke, afraid he would read the truth there.

These lines flow more naturally, they sound like normal speech. They also convey a little information about our characters. By focusing on Mary’s thoughts, we show she is the viewpoint character. We see that Bill and Mary know each other but haven’t been in contact in a while. Mary is hiding some secret and Bill must know her pretty well if she’s afraid he can tell she’s lying so easily.

Three simple lines of dialogue, yet they suggest a whole world of possibilities for these two characters. Are they estranged friends or former lovers? Do they still have feelings for each other? Did Mary seek him out or is this a chance encounter? What secret is Mary trying to hide?

Dialogue should always stand equal in importance with description and action. Much can be taken from the words your characters speak and the truth, or lack thereof, behind these words

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