Tuesday, July 26, 2016

D Is For Dialogue

Jennifer talks about conversation...

They say timing is everything, and that’s especially true with dialogue. Different people have different ways of speaking—some speak fast or slow, some are funny on purpose and some are funny unintentionally. Some have particular ways of speaking that immediately clue the reader in and identify the speaker.

I typically try to incorporate humor into my characters. How successful I am, well, I can’t say, because humor is subjective. But at least I try. Witty banter is hard. There is a timing to it and a delivery and when it works it’s awesome. When it doesn’t, oh boy. But whether or not my dialog is funny, it gives a hint as to what the characters are like.

This is a conversation from one of my WIPs:

“There’s a speed dating event at Urban Bistro Friday night. Come with me.”
No such luck.
“What? Why?”
“Because there will be a lot of guys in one room, obviously, and you didn’t like the date I set you up with last night.”
Aviva sighed. “Erica, I really appreciate your efforts, but I think I’d like to take a break for a little while.”
“Avs, you’re not in mourning, and you didn’t just break up with the love of your life. You’re alone, and you need a man. There is no ‘take a break for a little while.’”
Aviva cleared her throat and looked around the room. What she needed was a new coffee table and a new window shade and potentially a new roommate. “I don’t ‘need a man.’ I’m perfectly fine on my own.”
Erica laughed, and Aviva cringed until the raspy noise stopped.
“I didn’t mean it that way. I meant for sex,” Erica said.
Aviva spluttered.
“Please tell me you know what sex is,” Erica said with a look of horror.
Her other roommate was out, if the darkened bedroom with a wide open door was any indication, but still Aviva lowered her voice. “Of course I know what sex is. I just don’t see why you’re concerned with whether or not I get it.”
“Well, if you don’t know, it’s even more of a necessity. Girl, you’re coming with me and that’s that.” Erica grabbed Aviva’s hand and dragged her over to the sofa. Right in the middle of the beat-up, faux-wood coffee table was a printout from a speed dating website. Erica shoved it at Aviva, and Aviva took it with the tips of her fingers.

The characters are young New Yorkers, which means their dialogue is supposed to be snappy. The reader is supposed to have fun while reading.

In contrast, this is a sample from my book, Skin Deep:

“So, what can I say to make you join us?”
As he leaned against the wall in well-fitting jeans and a T-shirt that left nothing to the imagination, Valerie’s mind said, “Sleep with me.” Heat crept up her neck, over her cheeks and continued to the roots of her hair. A thin sheen of sweat dampened the space between her breasts. She felt the sudden urge to fan herself, like a damsel in distress in an old B-movie. Instead, she ignored her traitorous thoughts. Her balled fist pressed into her tight stomach.
“Tonight, not even chocolate will change my mind.”
She didn’t exactly lie. She had no intention of going to the bar, or of sleeping with him, no matter how her thoughts might try to sabotage her good intentions. She’d been fooled by surface finery before, and it had almost killed her. She wouldn’t let it happen again.
“I will remember that,” he promised. “But next time you will not get off so easy.” His eyes bored into hers for a moment, and then he turned on his heel and left.
True to his word, John arrived the following day prepared for battle. With a cursory knock on the door, he dangled a bag of M&Ms inside the trailer, but snatched it back before she could grab them. “We are going out for pizza. I will pick you up in ten minutes.” Before she could answer, he walked out.

John, the hero in this story, is very awkward around people, very hesitant to show himself to others. Consequently, he speaks more formally and doesn’t use contractions. I wanted the reader to wonder about him from the moment he opened his mouth. I also want the reader to see how he relaxes around the heroine as he gets to know her, because his speech changes.

How do you differentiate between characters and speech?


  1. I've enjoyed trying to make my Irish characters sound Irish, but without turning them into the stereotypical Hollywood image of the Irish! Sometimes that just means the occasional Irish word or expression, other times it involves a slightly different way of phrasing something.

    1. That's a difficult thing to do, and I think you've done it well.

  2. Great post, Jen. Your dialogue fits the characters. Definitely!

    1. Thank you. It's hard not to make them sound like me. :)

  3. Dialogue is hugely important in helping to get readers to really know the characters in a story. Catch phrases can help with that. Also using phrases that correspond to a character's background or career is fun and helpful too.

    1. Those are great ways of doing it, Debra.

  4. I have to confess that I don't intentionally give my characters different speech patterns, although I suspect it happens automatically. It's an interesting topic, though, and it might make me think about it in future.

    1. I think it's probably one of those things where if you know your character really well, their personality seeps through everywhere, including in their speech. Otherwise, all your characters would sound the same, which I'm sure they don't.