Dialogue is crucial for character development and will ultimately make or break a story. Let’s talk about it!
- Vernacular! I jes ‘appen to love this wee bit o’ aprostrophying to ‘elp spice up yer dialogue and draw yer readers into tha setting, but the meaning soon gets drownded in translation if ya ken what I mean. Vernacular can be a very useful clue to the speaker’s country of origin or level of education, but let’s be careful not to overload readers as I likely did in my example. 😉 Last year, I shared several parts of a story I was working on, and the general consensus was “too much accent”. Just mention that the character has an accent and use a few words ‘ere and there to get the point across.
- “Use good speech tags,” I said. Speech tags are so awesome! You can tell if someone sighed something, yelled, exhorted, inquired, etc. But too much is too much. The generally preferred speech tag is of course “said”, but I do like to keep a few others like “asked”, “answered”, and “responded” in my back pocket and save the others for dessert. I was working on my story the other day, and I wanted to emphasis that the toddler (sweet Jade) was being particularly naughty. I pulled out the handy speech tag “demanded” and tacked in onto the end of her sentence. Voila! I just upped the ante on the toddler’s attitude.
- What do they look like again? We learn about people by observation, but it comes in puzzle pieces that we gradually assemble into a picture. I like scattering these pieces in as the characters interact with each other. One character could look up at the other to show the height difference between them, another could play with an important bracelet on their wrist. In some descriptions, word connotations can immediately determine how readers should feel about the characters. Santa Claus is “roly-poly” not “fat”. Just remember more description means slower pacing. 😉
- Movement. Are the characters standing statue still as they speak? We all shift from foot to foot, rock on our toes, scrub angrily at dishes, or lean on the counter. Look, character development! People, not robots! On the other hand, don’t have them move around too much like Mexican jumping beans. Just as much as is necessary and adds something to the scene. 😉 We’re looking for realism here.
- Catch phrase, nervous habit. I’m told I twist my mouth on sideways when I’m especially nervous. Some people talk with their hands or practically do jumping jacks. Catch phrases vary from “oh, really?” to “that’s cool” and even some extremely awesome ones like “Alons-y!” 😉 Good fictional people become believable with these little quirks. There’s a huge library to choose from! Grab one for each of the main characters and a couple supporting characters too, but let’s make sure it’s in keeping with their character and not overuse it. My character Kiera actually has two habits I use for her different moods.
- And while we are talking about realism, here are a few things we forget humans do–create inside jokes, interrupt each other, and have misunderstandings. Implement these, and those characters will be loved FOREVER.
To sum up, realism and moderation (with some quirks just for fun) will make your dialogue shine!
So, what do you think? Anything you see that makes for great dialogue?