Friday, April 18, 2014

So what are you trying to say?


Just the thought of writing dialogue puts many writers into a manic panic. How do you find that other person's voice hiding inside of you? It's complicated and probably (as in totally) can't be addressed in a single post.

I met with my own critique group and we talked about the struggle in finding character voice and writing dialogue that rings true. When it's done well, it's not something you really notice. When it's not done well, it's all you can see. How can you hone your ear to find the truth in the voice of your characters? That's a good question, isn't it? It can be tricky--but it also can be done.

Here are some ideas for finding your character's voice.
  1. Read. Because the key to almost all writing struggles is studying craft, and what better way to study craft when that craft is words? Find books in the genre you're writing (or the closest thing to it) and read them. Skim your favorite books and pay attention to dialogue--how the back and forth is handled, tags or references to who's doing the talking--and consider how your dialogue compares. Young Adult dialogue is going to differ from Literary Fiction which differs from Romance which differs from Thrillers... you get the picure.
  2. Watch. Watch a movie or a sitcom or actual, real-live people in a coffee shop and pay attention to their words. The conversational highs and lows, the word choices, all of it. Maybe don't eavesdrop or be stalkery in any way, but pay attention. (Note: do not be a stalker! I do not advocate illegal or stalker-like activity when I say you should do this.)
  3. Listen. To yourself. How do you sound when you talk? Record your voice on the phone (not the other side of the conversation unless you have approval. Again--not advocating stalker-like or illegal behavior!)
  4. Write. Character outlines, back story, snippets and stories or bits related to your character but maybe not relevant to your story. It will help to flesh out your people.Your characters have had (most likely) many years of life which have led them to this time period you're writing about, and those years and experiences have formed them into the people they are now. Access those character lives, let yourself go a little and figure out your people.
  5. Research. What time or place is your character living in? These are things that would impact their speech patterns, word usage, general grammar. If you have a character living in 1800s France talking about "dropping it like it's hot," well, that's not really going to work, is it? 
What's your advice for writing dialogue that rings?


  1. Great tips! I'd add that reading my manuscript aloud is always the best way for me to hear what does and doesn't work in dialogue.

    ~Joyce Scarbrough

    1. Yes--I always read aloud, when I'm working on my own pieces or editing someone else's. Great advice on authentic dialogue and also flow in general--it sounds so much different when read aloud versus read silently.

  2. I'm with you both on reading aloud - you hear what you don't read. I'd add not to try and quote people verbatim - leave out the "ahs, ums, ers," - unless it's deliberate to your character - that REALLY are part of conversations. As an aside, whether or not you can tape record somebody without their permission (provided you are participating in the conversation) legally is a state-by-state issue. In Oklahoma it is legal to do so. In many other states it is not.