When you write dialogue, are you mimicking anyone? Like yourself? The curious want to know. Someone asked me about this today.
I honestly don’t think my characters’ dialogue is the way I talk. I generally try to think of the character’s personality and fit the dialogue to that. Do I know anyone with that type of personality that I can borrow from? Sometimes, but not always. There are times I have to think about the average reaction.
There are times that the protagonist in my books might use a word that I use, and that’s to be expected. We generally create dialogue that’s familiar to us; that we use or someone we spend time around uses. Do you spend time around teenagers? Their dialogue might be quite entertaining.
Hmm. That’s not always the case. For instance, a bad guy probably isn’t going to say, “shucky darn” when he’s caught. Well, I wouldn’t either. It’s up to the individual author to decide whether he might cuss, yell, moan or whatever. On the other hand, I suppose someone might say “shucky darn,” but I don’t know that person.
I have some senior characters in my books and I’ve spent a lot of my life around seniors. Well, I am one now (I like to say barely), but I’m talking about people in their eighties and nineties. They can be quite colorful sometimes. My grandmother used to say, “I can pretty much say whatever I want now and get away with it. People just attribute it to my age.” She was ninety at the time. I have that same attitude about what I eat, not what I say. Think chocolate. Give me time and I’ll probably come around to her way of thinking.
Keep the dialogue real.
“I am going to the store to buy several items. Would you care to accompany me?”
“I’m going to the store to pick up some stuff. Wanna come along?”
Which one sounds right? Either one. It simply depends on your character’s personality.
What about a character who stutters? Let them stutter, but don’t overdo it. The grandmother I just mentioned stuttered. We were very comfortable together and sometimes I’d finish her sentence for her. If it turned out she was going in a different direction than I anticipated, she’d just laugh and start over.
What about a mean or demented character? Can you create dialogue for that type of personality? Sometimes it takes research. I know someone who lives in an apartment building with some very mean-spirited women. She wouldn’t need to research meanness. It’s right there in front of her.
Maybe that’s what it all comes down to. Study the people around you, no matter where you are. Some of the things you might hear in the grocery store are mind boggling. Yesterday I was at the store and I heard a mother and her adult son in the next aisle. I couldn’t see them, but the son just about broke my heart. He was mentally challenged and he was sobbing, crying his little heart out, asking her not to leave him. She was reassuring him that she wasn’t leaving him behind and he should walk with her. She was patient, kind and gentle with him. That was the gist of it, and it was eye-opening. You don’t hear an adult male react to something like a small child every day. How did I know he was mentally challenged? You could hear it in the dialogue and tone of voice. I never saw them, and the male could have been a teenager, but he definitely had an adult voice.
Remember the things you hear. Write notes to yourself if you need to. Sometimes you don’t have to take notes because some dialogue will stick in your mind forever.
Anyway, keep your dialogue in line with your character’s personality, age and gender. And, again, keep it real.
Until next time, don’t purposely be nosy, but sometimes you can’t help overhearing conversations, especially when someone is on their cell phone. They tend to talk louder for some reason. Children often speak loudly, too, and I’ve heard a few give away secrets just because of the volume.
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