Monday, July 29, 2013

Dialogue – Do Your Character’s Words Ring True?

I see it time and time again in draft manuscripts, and unfortunately, in self-published books…

Dialogue is used to tell the reader what the author wants them to think, rather than being a direct vehicle for plot and characterization.

Premise of NA romance is ice-queen meets bad-boy. Sparks become ill-fated attraction and all manner of conflict ensues.

The book is great, the characters are compelling and the story rolls along at the perfect pace. But…
Hero has a habit of saying things like “I’m a rebel. I don’t care what other people think.”

Heroine has a habit of thinking things like “My icy exterior is usually all I need to repel bar-flies and arrogant preppies. So why isn’t it working on this bad-boy?”

Two points to consider here:


It still needs to come across as if the character is speaking. Of course, it should be the ultimate open-forum – inside a character’s head. Their words as they speak to themselves in honesty (or denial). But it still needs to sound like dialogue. They need to phrase and think in natural structure and terms.
I’ve meet women I’d define as ice-queens. I’ve never once heard one refer to herself in those terms. Instead, I imagine when she thinks of herself, she thinks more on how her actions affect others, or questions why she can’t open up enough to let others in.

The reader has met ice-queens too. He / she doesn’t need the words to understand what’s going on. The reader just needs the thoughts and actions of a person who fits that mold.


A genuine “bad-boy” doesn’t call himself a bad boy, or a rebel, or a renegade, or any of those other words we use to define a stock-character. What he does do is act like a hard-ass, think in words that are blunt and confrontational. And he regards himself with strength, and probably a certain degree of defensiveness. He is naturally hard. Ergo, when he speaks (or thinks) his phrases and vernacular reflect that.
My suggestion?

 “I’m a rebel. I don’t care what other people think,” becomes, “Who cares? I could give two ****’s about what she thinks.”
 “My icy exterior is usually all I need to repel bar-flies and arrogant preppies. So why isn’t it working on this bad-boy?” becomes, “The blank look I offered always worked on the rabble in places like this. But this guy just grinned and flexed. It was…disturbing.”

Can you see how these kinds of dialogue forward the movement of the plot, and define the characters through their actions and impressions, rather than by letting them define themselves? It’s more effective, more subtle, and more interesting to read.
Now, I’m not suggesting my phrases are perfect writing and structure, I’m just trying to give you the idea of how to solve the problem of letting your dialogue become instruction to the reader, rather than nature person-to-person

Remember: Dialogue is an important key in creating a realistic book. It can move your characters from stock to faceted, can create drama and intrigue where none would otherwise exist, and can compel the reader in a way no other part of the writing structure does. It’s the “fly on the wall” moment of your book.
But it must, it absolutely must, read real.

If you aren’t sure whether your dialogue rings true, try reading it out loud. Are you hearing words you can imagine coming out of the mouths of your family and friends? Or are you trying to create drama through melodramatic words?

Don’t do it. By using dialogue that sounds real to define action and boundaries, you’ll create that same clarity of character, without making the reader raise and eyebrow and think “Um… really?”

Your Turn: What techniques do you use to ensure your dialogue is realistic? Do you consider internal dialogue to be the spoken word?


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