Making people talk, real-ly and on purpose

I’ll be honest. Dialogue in my stories has never been something I’m overly conscious of.

I know to make sure to throw it in to break up descriptions ect., no one wants to read a story with no dialogue. But I’ve never given a lot of though to what my characters say. I just make them say whatever seems right in the moment.

Perhaps this comes, in part, because I don’t have quite the diversity in characters that I could or should have. But in large part, I just don’t often think of what they are saying.

Module five of my children’s book writing class was all about dialogue, and it had several good pointers, like making sure dialogue has a purpose and isn’t just filler, and making sure your characters are speaking in realistic ways.

For example, the kids in my current work should not sound exactly the same (they are different people, different ages, different genders), and they certainly should not sound the same as their mother. At 12 years old, Molly is probably trying to sound more grown up, she might be trying out new, longer words every now and then. Vinny, younger than Molly (yes, I forgot how old I made him), is not going to understand Molly’s bigger words, and he is going to express himself in the most basic of terms.

They might also have different ways of expressing themselves, based on their interests and primary sensory method of receiving information (visual, audio, touch).

What I thought interesting is how the course authors said not to make your characters sound like you. I’m certainly guilty of that, and I’ve never given it much thought, but it would certainly make characters monotonous, as well as unrealistic. It’s a good tip to keep in mind, and something to focus on as I go back and edit different bits of writing, to look for similarities in speech patterns.

Probably the most interesting thing I found in this chapter was the “thesaurus syndrome” as they call it, and their advice to avoid it. Specifically dealing with the use of “said” in dialogue, I understand that not every tag at the end of each individual’s sentence needs to be something different, but both as a writer and a reader, I get quite tired of “said,” “said,” “said,” all the time. I don’t mind breaking it up. To avoid the thesaurus syndrome (which, I do recognize the necessity to not go overboard with it) I tend to use the method they also suggested, which is to identify the speaker by having them do something before or after they speak. Molly might smile at Vinny before she answers his question. Molly’s secret agent partner Peter might say something and give her a scowl when he’s finished. Or when her mother is scolding her, she might pause between two sentences and take a deep breath to release some tension.

But this is still something to keep in mind, and another focus when I do editing, to look for opportunities to identify speakers (where necessary) with an action, instead of stating the obvious: that they said something.

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