He’d Never Say That!!! The Importance of Effective Dialogue
“It’s not what you said. It’s how you said it.” I’ve been hearing a variation of this my whole life, and as it turns out – it’s true. A person can say the sweetest words in the world to you, but give them a sarcastic tone and they’re derogatory. Or maybe he agrees to do a kind thing, but with a bored expression, letting you know that his preferences are to do something completely different. In life, we have to consider the words, the actions, the tone, the expression… There are so many factors that sway our perception of what we’re hearing.
When reading, some of those aspects go out the window. We can pick up on the nonverbal bits of communication through description – a character places a hand on her hips, or rolls her eyes – but we don’t literally *hear* what the person is saying. There can be clues that let us infer – maybe an exclamation point – but that’s kind of the point. We’re inferring, and interpreting, and it isn’t as concrete as actually watching people go through a conversation.
Dialogue is a huge part of writing, and even without the above thoughts, it should be taken seriously. Readers can learn a good amount about characters through dialogue, and it can be a useful tool in moving the plot along. When you add in the differences between a real-life conversation and a written one, the details become all the more important.
Each author is free to choose his own method of delivery, but to me, dialogue is most effective when it mirrors conversations. This seems a little obvious, but sometimes the mark is missed by a mile. You should know your characters well enough to understand how they speak, and strive to stay as honest to that approach as possible.
There isn’t a specific formula for this. If you’re writing historical fiction, you might use language that is much more eloquent than someone who is writing a contemporary piece, and a fantasy author might have more imagery than a YA work. I’m not criticizing any of the genres. My kindle account has at least one of each that I adore. But you should get a firm grip on the era and the style you mean to represent, and hold to that as you go through your story.
A good rule of thumb, to me, is to make your characters sound like people. If you can’t imagine a person actually saying something, you probably shouldn’t force your character to. These are the pieces of your story that we identify with, and if they’re constantly throwing us for a loop with their dialogue, it takes away from the story. It’s like removing you from the plot, going “THIS ISN’T REAL,” and sending you back. Any part of your story that’s out of place can do this, and dialogue is not an exception.
As an example, let’s say that you have a couple of modern-day teenagers, discussing what movie they want to see. Now, you could make one of them say,
“Nay, lads, I’d prefer to venture forth to the telling of the story of that cowboy fellow.”
But unless he’s joking, it doesn’t work. This would be a fine line if you had a character from another time or place trying to merge with society, but not so much with the modern-day teenagers you meant to represent.
Okay, that quote was a bit of a stretch. Most authors wouldn’t put that in their work. Still, even if you are a lengthy distance from that particular boundary, you could still choose unsuited dialogue.
“I worry that the movie will continue past my curfew, and mom will be angry.”
Not one word of this statement is out of context for the time, but the order and design make it sound foreign to what a teenager would really be saying. If the teen is worried about curfew, he’d more than likely say something closer to,
“That one lasts too long. Mom’ll kill me if I’m out that late.”
It flows more easily, and it keeps you in the story, because it reads like a real life scenario. If the dialogue feels forced or abnormal, it can momentarily bring a reader out of your fictional world, which is the exact opposite of what you should be looking to do. You should want them invested in your book, and take precautions to keep them there. Dialogue can be a deciding issue on that, even if just momentarily. You probably don’t want your reader to pause to say, “Nobody talks that way!” and then have to submerge into the novel all over again. Keep them there, and use thought-out vocabulary to do so.
If you’d like to critique my work – see if I abide by my own rules – check out Essenced, scheduled to be free on December 5th. Links are on my website.
by Connie L. Smith (Goodreads Author)
Years ago, demons were forced out of the earth’s realm by a band of supernatural fighters, banished from the place and its people in the aftermath of a horrific war. It should’ve ended there – would’ve – if not for the final demon’s claw snagging on the open portal. What felt like victory became only a reprieve, the winning warriors understanding that the tear would spread, and the demons eventually would escape exile. It was only a matter of time, and a need for future defense – a question of genetics and essences, magic and power.
Now, centuries later, a new army must bind together – one of teenagers with inhuman potentials and abilities…
AJ went to bed Sunday night an average teenage girl, clumsy and athletically lacking. So when she wakes up Monday morning with super-strength, she does what any rational person would do: She goes into denial. When a smoking hot guy in a suit shows up, rambling about the end of the war and demons spilling through some kind of rift, she refuses to listen, telling herself he’s insane. Except weird things just won’t quit happening, and the guy keeps popping up in her life, trying to explain the changes suddenly happening within her. Is she crazy, or is this guy… not so crazy after all?
Connie L. Smith spends far too much time with her mind wandering in fictional places. She reads too much, likes to bake, and will be forever sad that she doesn’t have fairy wings. And that she can’t swing dance. When she isn’t reading or writing, there’s a good chance she’s goofing off with her amazing, wonderful, incredible, fabulous nieces and nephew, or listening to music that is severely outdated. She has her BA from
in Speech Communication and History (she doesn’t totally get the connection either) and likes to snap photos. Oh, and she likes apples a whole big bunch.Found out more about Connie L. Smith, A GOODREADS Author at: Northern Kentucky University