Dialogue and thought
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 23:01
As many an introvert can attest, speaking can be overwhelmingly difficult. Every word stands the chance to be overanalyzed; every phrase could sound less acceptable when spoken. Surprisingly (or not), there are many similar issues that can plague the writing of good dialogue. But I think that most, if not all, can be summed up with these terms: fluency and believability.
Believe me when I say I am unbelievably picky when it comes to written dialogue. Dialogue is one thing that I am rarely completely happy with when it comes to my own writing. It all comes down to fluency and believability. What I mean by fluency and believability is how natural the dialogue sounds. Nothing can ruin perfectly good characters with rich backstories faster than stilted dialogue. I don’t just mean relatively simple things like overly dramatic statements or jokes that aren’t funny; there’s also personality to consider.
That is to say, an aristocrat is likely to speak in a more refined, sophisticated manner, with command of an impressive vocabulary. He or she is unlikely to use contractions in their speech. By contrast, a child, unless extraordinarily precocious, is likely to use shorter, easier words. Realistically, most children are unlikely to offer the eloquent pearls of wisdom that so often drop from Calvin’s (from Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes) mouth.
Another important thing to consider is the length of dialogue. Sometimes, it is necessary to have a page or two be entirely dialogue. However, doing so effectively can be tricky. After all, a page of dialogue can be hard to follow, and the more characters that are participating in the conversation, the harder it can be. Furthermore, while conversations in real life can take hours (especially with mothers), it’s important to remember that brevity is a virtue when it comes to writing dialogue. Make sure that the dialogue you’re writing is doing its job, and only that.
Writing a character’s thoughts is a similar process to writing dialogue. A problem that I come across all too often is making the character too self-aware, or worse, putting my own thoughts as theirs. First of all, doing that introduces the problem of being too meta. Second, and more importantly, it makes your character boring. What about a self-aware character is boring? If your character is too self-aware, they will be aware of their flaws and thus in too strong a position to fix them quickly and easily. That is boring, not to mention unrealistic. People are seldom aware of their flaws in real life, and your characters should be no different.
That being said, I don’t think there are any truly concrete rules to be had in writing. If you think there’s a good reason to do something unconventional, go ahead and do it. Little quirks and idiosyncrasies are what make up a writer’s style, and you definitely want to encourage that.