Friday, 22 November 2013

Realistic dialogue

In my previous post, I talked about how you can tell a lot about a character by what is said about them and what they say about themselves.

In this post, I wanted to talk about speech patterns and dialogue mannerisms.

I read somewhere once that a character should be so well defined that the reader knows who is speaking by what they say, as in the words they use, rather than the author writing 'Joe said', or 'said Betty', that kind of thing.

When first profiling a character - and by that I mean, getting to know them and understanding what makes them tick as only their creator can do - one of the things I like to do is think about little nuances that make them unique.

For example, in my book Torn, Simon refers to his sister as Zan, short for Alexandra. Most other people call her Alex; only Simon calls her Zan and I did this deliberately so that every time Simon was speaking to Alex, I didn't need to add, 'said Simon', at the end of his line. The reader would know by his use of the nick name who was speaking.

Similarly, only Maeve used the word marvy. It was a silly, made-up shortening of marvelous but when she said it, I didn't need to add the 'said Maeve' at the end of her sentence.

I attended a writing conference some years back and one of the workshops I attended was about writing effective dialogue.

Boy - did I learn a lot at that workshop! Among the many valuable tips and hints I received that day, I remember our facilitator suggesting a little exercise.

I'm going to share that with you now.

Next time you go to a cafe, or you're sitting on a train or bus, you know, somewhere where you can observe people, discreetly listen in to their conversations. Not for any creepy or underhanded reasons of course, but as a human study.

Take notice of the way they speak.

When we're in dialogue with one another, we don't usually speak in full sentences.

It's different when writing, of course, because we're mindful of punctuation and grammar and so on. But when we speak, our minds are working faster than our mouths. We often jump from subject to subject, we start new sentences before finishing the previous ones or we leave sentences dangling and incomplete.

In my book, All That & Everything, which is a compilation of short stories, I have a story titled Kay's Cafe. This was a bit of an experiment because it is written entirely in dialogue.

I wanted to see if I could paint a picture, tell a story, and develop characters using only what they say about themselves and each other.

I enjoyed the challenge of it and, in the end, I thought it came up alright. I entered it into a competition and surprise! - it won First Prize in the Society of Women Writers Vic Bienniel Award 2009.

In other stories where I've used dialogue, particularly in Torn, I've tried to keep the dialogue real.

One of the best ways, I've discovered, is to read the dialogue out loud to yourself. You'll soon find out what works and what doesn't.

If you read it out loud and it sounds silly, fake or contrived, scrap it or re-write it - do whatever it takes! Always read out loud.

I write a lot of financial articles and while they don't have dialogue, I still read them out loud because, for me, that's one of the best ways to work out if I have my punctuation in the right spots.

If I'm trying to explain a complex concept or piece of legislation, where I place my commas can make a big difference to the readability of my work.

If it doesn't sound right, I change it. Read it again, change it again, if needed. Only after I've satisfied myself that it works will I submit it to the publisher.

I am, after all, a financial writer and if my words are crappy, then so is my work! As a fiction writer, I also have dialogue to consider and if the things my characters say aren't realistic or sound corny, then I've lost my readers in the first page.

So, there we are, dear readers...I hope that's been interesting/helpful.

Now, back to that exercise I told you about - why don't you try it and tell me how you go. I'd love to know what you think.

Next time you're in a cafe or somewhere public, do a little eavesdropping. Don't listen to what people are saying - that's none of your business - but listen to how they're saying it.

Listen to your friends when they're talking to you, your colleagues or your partner.

It's all around you!

Until next week - keep writing!

Oh! I keep forgetting - I mention my books quite often and provide links to them and my website, but if you're interested in following what I'm up to in real time, including some fun competitions and stuff, check out my face book page Karen Turner Author. Make sure you like my page and stay up to date.

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