Dynamic Dialogue: Do This, Not that

Writing fiction is fun! It’s also complicated. One of the things that I see in many books is the struggle between carrying the plot forward, and creating realistic dialogue between characters. That said, here are my suggestions:

Do:

  • Use adjectives to show how a person is speaking. I get it, someone, somewhere, said that adjectives are a waste of ink (or something like that). I would argue that adjectives, when used wisely, are not only desirable, but necessary when creating a realistic bit of dialogue. Humans don’t just use words to communicate, we use body language, vocal inflection, and facial expressions. “I love you,” she said. Ok, that works, but what if you’re trying to show something a bit more complex… “I love you,” she said breathlessly… “I love you,” she said coldly…
  • Use body language! Again, this goes back to how humans communicate. We rarely communicate without our bodies giving multiple other symbols to show the meaning behind our words… “I love you,” she said coldly, flipping her hair over her shoulder and walking away, scowling the whole time… Ouch! What did that person do to get her that angry? What a kiss off!
  • Create a unique voice for each character. This should be obvious. Each character should be unique, they should have a back story. In OLD BLOOD most of my characters slip in a foul word or two, some rarer than others. However, one of my characters has borderline personality disorder, is in and out of jail, thinks the world has nothing to offer him, and he’s nineteen years old. He cusses, he gets angry often, and he has no respect for himself or anyone in authority. I show this through his thought processes, but mostly through his dialogue. His voice is aggressive, it’s full of bad language as well as words that speak of a higher vocabulary that he doesn’t use when he’s talking, but that show up in his thoughts.  His voice is wildly different from any other character’s.

 

Don’t:

  • Go through the story setting up dialogue that doesn’t get to a point, or that doesn’t move the plot forward. Useless drivel that merely entertains is just that, drivel. If the goal is to show the relationship between two characters, great! Keep the plot moving through it though. Are they talking while packing for this journey? Are they co-workers in a heated argument (then this argument should lead to the climax)? Max and Kate can have a huge fight, cool! But if Max and Kate are strangers and the fight has no point in the story except to show what a jerk Max is, then skip the dialogue and have him do something crappy to stranger Kate, and move on with his day.
  • Leave a pivotal piece of dialogue flat. If there is anything I detest more than flat dialogue, it’s important dialogue that I’ve skimmed over because it was flat! Important words need important actions, subtext, and setting! As an avid reader, I don’t want to go back and re-read all of the dialogue to find the reason why the action is happening now. It’s irritating.
  • Use unnecessarily complicated names for places or people. I would also avoid using substitute words for things. “Frack,” is a syfy culture reference (thank you Battlestar Galactica). It means the “F” word. But using “Frankfurter” or “Farfignuten” or “Blarfinheimer” as pseudonyms for the “F” word just gets irritating. Clever is clever for about ten minutes, then it just gets trite. I’m an adult. If you need to use that language, than use it. I promise I won’t be offended. If you’re writing for teens, then skip it altogether, as it is offensive. Play to the audience, not your ego.
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