Dialogue is so important to your characters and story, and I think that’s why I love it. The words your characters speak are just as important as the way they say those words. Sometimes, though, dialogue can be a tricky little sucker, right?
Especially when you’re writing from an area you don’t know. For instance, if your character is from another part of the country, she’s going to speak differently than you do. This is definitely an instance where you kick the idea of “write what you know” in the butt. Or if you write fantasy and create your own world (read She’s Novel’s awesome post about world building here), you need to create some dialogue.
Today, I’m going to take a look at eleven tips to creating that natural dialogue.
For this, I’m going to use the example of my main character, Cassie, and I. Both of us hail from Texas, so it’s totally natural for her to drop a “y’all” in the conversation, even if she lives and works in Washington, D.C. Little tidbits like that can help give your character a more realistic sense in your story. Or create a fish out of water scenario which is fun to play with. If you’re still struggling on where to place your book to begin with, read this post about picking your book’s setting.
2. Do your research
If your character is from somewhere else, try to find primary sources of people from that area talking. If your character is from New York, watch videos on youtube of people from New York and take note of some of the words they say, how fast they talk, etc. You want to style your dialogue in a similar way.
Now that you have the tools to find out the dialect, you want to make sure it sounds natural, even if you are unfamiliar with the area.
3. Even with Dialect, Don’t Go Overboard
In my creative writing class last semester, one girl wrote a short story almost completely in dialect. While it was a brilliant idea, too much dialect can be a huge distraction. Dialect is something you use sparingly. It can help you create a sense of belonging to your character, but too much of it and your reader will feel exhausted and won’t continue reading. If you use dialect, I’d suggest only using it dialogue, not in the narration.
4. Read it Back
With that, to make sure you have a good balance of “normal” English and your dialect, more favoring to the “normal English.” If you can’t read the dialect naturally within your dialogue (and I mean read it out loud), you can probably ditch it. The whole point of creating natural dialogue is to have it sound like an actual conversation that could really happen anywhere, with normal people.
5. Use Contractions
I read a book a few years back, and while I don’t remember the book, I remember it being in the south and the total lack of contradictions. All the dialogue was very formal. Use contradictions to help break up the pace, and because people talk with contractions. Do not and cannot are all fine and dandy for a formal paper for your English class, but not for two people talking to one another.
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6. Stay Away From Monologues
People don’t (DO NOT) talk in monologues, unless they’re ranting. Even then, you can break up a person’s monologue with some inner thoughts, or body language.
Which leads me to my next point.
7. Body language can be dialogue too
Body language is a dialogue of its own, and make sure its reflected in the way your character talks. If your character is mad, not only will the words convey that, but adding body language like “she slapped the plates down on the counter” help build the tone of that dialogue. Even though body language happens in the narration, it’s still a major part of creating that dialogue.
8. Break it Up
This kind of goes with tip #6, but break it up. Conversations and dialogue are between two people. Even if you are ranting in a monologue, break it up with body language, something happening, or internal thought.
9. Add some distractions
In life, it’s easy to get distracted and start a whole new conversation without realizing it. Make this happen, and it’s okay if it’s often. We have meaningless conversations everyday. Even though some may argue they’re pointless to the story (which they are), adding these meaningless conversations help make your characters human.
10. Don’t be afraid to drop a few bad words
Most adults cuss at least every now and then. Don’t filter out the bad things just because you’re afraid of a few four letter words. If your character talks tough, you need to make it authentic. Now, don’t drop “fucks” and “shits” just for shits and giggles, but make them a part of your character’s natural language.
And my final tip:
11. Go On Instinct
If it sounds funny, it probably is funny, as in, if it sounds wooden, or unreal, it probably is. You’re human, you know how humans talk to one another every day. Don’t overthink it to make it perfect. People are wonderfully, imperfect projects.
What tip would you add for creating natural dialogue?