Dialogue so often defines characters in books. So do their thoughts. However, sometimes they need to take a different path, just like we do.
I know someone who had to have a biopsy of her right lung recently. She was told prior to the procedure that it’s rare, but the lung could collapse during the biopsy. They gave her something and put her into “twilight sleep.” It knocked her out. At some point the person doing the biopsy shook her shoulder and told her that her lung had collapsed. She looked up and said, “Oh, okay,” put her head down and went back to sleep. Good ol’ twilight sleep. This is the same woman who, after surgery, kept asking people where the guy was who ate all the chicken. Huh? No one knew what she was talking about, and when she came around, neither did she.
The point of these stories is that sometimes our characters can say something from out the blue, too. It’s just that there should be something leading up to it so it makes some kind of sense to the reader. How many times have you said something odd before realizing the person you’re talking to has no idea what you’re talking about?
Personally, and this is just me, a story is more realistic if the character does or says something out of character once in a while. Dialogue can be so important. How often do you bite your tongue and keep quiet when you really, really want to voice an opinion? Things often just slip out when we originally meant to keep our thoughts to ourselves. Let your characters do the same thing. It’s a good way for them to get in trouble or set themselves up for a confrontation.
Yes, I know that sometimes they honestly need to keep their thoughts to themselves, but occasionally they should speak up. It’s another way to keep the story moving.
Sometimes when I’m considering a line of dialogue I stop and think, would Jane Doe say something like this? Or would she be more likely to give John Brown a withering look? Thinking about what real life people might say or do can help when writing dialogue.
I read an unpublished manuscript where the main character was so outspoken that it was, well, disturbing. This same character came across as Superman, who could say and do anything without worry about retribution. No one could get the best of this character, verbally or physically, and it was so unrealistic that I couldn’t finish it.
I realize that in fiction we often have to cross some lines, but when it comes to dialogue, make it serious, make it funny, make it wild, or make it whatever you want it to be, but keep it believable. If your character asks, “Where’s the guy that ate all the chicken?” make sure she or he has a reason, as in the case of just having had surgery or maybe she is just coming out of a deep sleep.
Why the heck is an author writing about this type of dialogue? In this case it’s because I’m talking about dialogue that’s out of the ordinary, which is sometimes preferable. Sometimes it wakes up a dreary story. It can keep readers on their toes. For that matter, it can keep an author on his or her toes. If I’m working on a story and find my mind wandering, then I know it’s time to liven things up, and maybe past time.
A writer doesn’t need to be funny (although that’s my own preference), but they need to keep things lively. Move things along, and sometimes use dialogue to do it.
“Where’s the guy who ate all the chicken?
“I dunno. Probably down at the Chicken House looking for more.”
Any thoughts on quirky dialogue? Please share.
Until next week, look for some good dialogue in the books you read. Have a great week!
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Entrance to Nowhere - A Sandi Webster Mystery might have some quirky dialogue. Funny, but I can't remember for sure. Uh huh.