I’ve talked about various facets of dialogue before, but I want to specifically address the vocal aspect of written dialogue.
I’ve read dialogue that was so bland I couldn’t tell anything about the characters behind it. Don’t let that happen! Writers needs to put character into their characters. Examine each of your characters: where they’re from, their background and education, their personality. Such things can help decide accents and patterns of speech.
Ever read J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring? In the Council of Elrond, we have many different speakers of different races, cultures, ages—each one has their own voice. He did an amazing job. It sounds more like he was merely a reporter sitting unnoticed in a corner taking notes than an author writing dialogue.
So, how do you go about creating that uniqueness in your characters’ voices and dialogue? What helps you in the process? Do you have tricks such as casting actors in the roles to give a face and voice to the character?
Capitalization in Dialogue
Say What, er, I Mean, How?
Using Speaker Attributions Properly
Talking about Dialogue
I teach at Young Authors Conferences every year, and always open with the question: “Why do you write?”
As I anticipate the reopening of UOT in YowNow, and resuming my Fiction Writing classes, I began musing that question, since I will be asking it of my online students.
So I thought I’d share it here.
Aspirations of getting published, getting that huge advance, being rich (and don’t forget famous!) are nice, but if they’re the reason you write, you’re on the wrong road. It’s hard work, and if you haven’t got passion, discouragement and disillusionment will catch up with you fast.
Publication is a logical goal for writers, but perhaps not for all. You can write just for fun – for your own personal satisfaction or to share with a few friends, as a way to relieve stress, for a project (such as plays for a local theatre group) or online (machinima anyone?) – there are many ways to write without the end result being “published.”
But whether you wish to be published or not, if you are a writer, you write because you must. Because the voices of the characters in your head make you. Because when you drive down the road, or are in the shower, or some other odd place, characters and plots zap into your brain and won’t leave you alone until you write them down. You couldn’t quit if you tried (and perhaps you have tried). You just can’t not write.
So now tell me: why do you write?
And what are your goals?
I just read something Marc Martel (of the band Downhere) wrote about his songwriting: “…if the song doesn’t connect with people emotionally first, then there’s not much point to it.”
This isn’t true just of songwriters. I’ve known writers hung up on the mechanics – and don’t get me wrong, that’s important. Writing is a craft that must be honed. But you can have a manuscript that is technically perfect: proper grammar, punctuation, fantastic hook, showing not telling, great plot arc, wickedly tight writing – everything today’s publisher is looking for, and still have something that is void.
I’ve seen this many times in slush piles and in crit groups. Yes, get all those things I listed above correct, but that’s not enough. You must get your readers to connect with your characters, care about them. You want your readers to connect, be emotionally involved.
This last year, my favorite writer released the latest book in a series. It was great as usual, but the ending (although we’d had hints this was going to happen) shocked me, and I literally burst into tears and threw the book across the room. (No spoilers, in case any of the three or so people who follow my column might have a clue of the writer and series in question.)
Can you get your readers that emotionally connected to your stories and your characters?