Writing dialogue in your book
Rebecca Mikkelson, Editor-in-Chief Authors 4 Authors Publishing
The dialogue of your book is what makes it unique. Yes, your world and your plot can as well, but when it comes down to it, in this day and age, almost every story has been told already. They’re just packed in new and different ways.
How do your characters talk?
There are books, upon books, upon books out there on how to write dialogue within your story to make it believable and enrich your world. I want to focus on three things I think writers struggle with the most.
In a fantasy world, it’s hard to get a dialect just right. Whose rules and accents do you follow? Do you make up your own or listen to people from different regions speak until you think you can write it with consistency?
It’s hard to tell, if I’m being honest. You might be able to make your own by mixing similar dialects and cherrypicking your favorite isms and slang, but you would need to make sure that they’re similar enough that your character doesn’t sound like they don’t know where they are. That might be a fun twist for an amnesiac character, but in general, it’s going to feel like you didn’t edit well enough in your finished project.
If you’re wanting to create your own language and give it its own flair, you can check out our worldbuilding blog post on language to get a jumping-off point.
Each character is going to have their own speaking style and personality, and your reader should be able to pick up on it fairly easily. For example, you might have a character who’s Oxford-educated, who is naturally going to speak with a broader vocabulary than someone who didn’t graduate high school. (Before you bite my head off, there are many exceptions to this statement, but these blogs are always written in generalized statements.)
Or maybe you have a character who has a habitual turn of phrase or a specific word they say with annoying consistency, such as my nephew who regularly says, “Well, actually,” when he wants to correct someone in all of his seven-year-old wisdom. Which leads me to my next point...
This is one that I run into the most when I’m reading books or submissions: there’s a child in the scene, and the child speaks in the same manner as an adult. There are some very intelligent children out there, but a general rule of thumb is that children speak as children.
This is the same as for an elderly character. Language changes by the day, much as we dislike it. My grandmother wouldn’t ask for gossip by saying “spill the tea” as much as a teen of today wouldn’t ask someone to “chew the fat” to catch up on each other’s lives.
Believable dialogue is hard. It’s really hard, you guys.
There isn’t really one simple trick to get believable dialogue in your writing, frustrating as that might be. Even authors that have been writing for decades can sometimes struggle with writing a smooth-talking character or swoon-worthy love confessions. It’s just plain old difficult.
But, there is hope. There are a few things that you can do to help yourself along, and they are pretty easy:
- Read your dialogue aloud to yourself or act out the scene to get just the right mood for the words.
- Ask a friend to read the dialogue you’re unsure about.
- Have multiple people critique your work.
The last one might seem like it would be hard, but there are plenty of people out in the world willing to be critique partners or alpha/beta readers for you. If you’re looking for a place to get started on that, try out Scribophile, a free or premium site that’s filled to the brim with authors in various stages of skill who are all there for the same reason you are.
I don’t know what to do with my hands!
This doesn’t exactly have to do with speaking, but character actions go along with what they’re saying. You aren’t going to have a character standing there stiff as a board as they wax poetic to another character. Your characters don’t need to do anything wild, but the right character action will certainly enrich the scene and make the dialogue more impactful.
For example, if your character is distressed you have two ways you can go about it.
“I don’t know what to do!” he said, distressed.
He ran his hand through his hair while he paced the room. When he finally stopped pacing, he looked to her with wide eyes. “I don’t know what to do!”
Option B actually shows the distress, enriching the scene while Option A simply tells us he’s distressed. Never underestimate the benefit of telling us what a character is doing.
Join us next week when we talk about the setting.
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