Monday, July 23, 2012

#Writing Tip ~ Dialogue

I think we all know by now Monday is my least favorite day of the week. Back to work, no more playing around and writing as much as I possibly can on my current work in progress.  However, while writing this weekend, I realized one of my biggest problems in writing still exists. Being in editing mode for so long, I'd forgotten about it.

Crafting Realistic Dialogue.  Dialogue is the most important element in your novel. Every class, book, other author ever to offer advice on this has taught me readers prefer dialogue. If you have a scene that can be accomplished by having your characters talk through what is happening instead of writing narrative, that's the way to go.  However, the dialogue needs to seem like real people talking, not stilted or fake. This is actually harder to accomplish than it seems at first shake.  There are a few easy things that help out with this. 

Contractions:  This is where I have the biggest problem. I'm always stuck in that "report writing" mentality while working on dialogue where you never, ever, under any circumstances put a contraction in the paper.  However, unless you are writing a historical novel in a time people didn't use contractions, you need to work these in there.  Contractions read smoother to the reader's eye and keeps them in the moment. 

"They will see my dirty house and I do not want them to," Sarah said.

Bob grimaced.  "Then do not let them in right now."

Stilted and formal, right?  It should really read something like  - "They'll see my dirty house.  I can't let that happen," Sarah said.  Bob grimaced.  "Then don't open the door."  (Okay, this is a really simplistic example and probably not something I'd ever have characters say, but it's just to show the point of how much smoother it reads with the contractions).

I miss this a lot in my writing, but thankfully my critique partners help me out.  Go through all the dialogue in your WIP and make sure you used contractions wherever needed.

Regional Dialect:  There is debate about whether or not to use regional dialect in your book to add flavor and show the personality of the characters.  I rarely do this.  I might throw in an ain't or an -ing word missing the g with an apostrophe instead (somethin' like this) but you need to understand a little of this goes a long way. The way I have seen other authors handle this is to introduce the character by having them speak the dialect the first thing they say to give the reader the picture, but then only throw in a few words sparsely throughout that are written with the apostrophes.  If you have a character with incomprehensible speech (no matter how good you think you pulled it off) the reader is going to get frustrated and put your book down if they have to work too hard to understand what is being said. 

Read it out loud:  Another good way to make sure it sounds "real" is to read your lines out loud.  Does it sound like a normal thing to say, or do you have a hard time reading it out loud?  (This is actually good to do with your entire novel)

Also, as I've discussed before, avoid the dreaded talking heads syndrome at all costs.

I hope some of this helps.  Happy writing and have a terrific, productive week! Thanks for stopping by. 

~ Chantel


  1. I MUCH prefer reading contractions in dialogue. I don't like to read dialogue where the characters sound smarter than they are supposed to be. Like, a seven year old shouldn't be using words like "circumstance" or "embarrassed", unless of course, said sever year old is introduced as some genius with a fantastical vocabulary. :D

    1. That's a very good point, Diane. Keep the characters in character. :-) Thanks for stopping by. Have a terrific day!

  2. All good advice, Chantel. And I do so agree with your comments about dialect. Some dialogue becomes unreadable.

    1. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, Greta. Yeah, that's when dialect becomes a problem. Sometimes its too hard to understand what the author meant.

  3. One of my characters has a New York City flavor and drops all his 'g's at the end of the ing - this is a children's series and dogs speaking - he is one of the favorite pups - I have to go through and make sure Word hasn't corrected my imperfections.

    1. That's a good point too, Paula. I have a friend who has a character that drops the "g" on -ing words, but Word auto corrects and puts the g back so he has the word and an apostrophe. Have to watch out for that. Thanks for the comment!

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    1. Thanks, Martin! I appreciate you reading and the support. Have a fantastic weekend!


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