Diversify your dialogue

Ever notice superb dialogue in a movie, TV show, or play? Examples are springing to mind, aren’t they? You always remember great dialogue.

Books can have great dialogue, too. There are many ways to go about this —  building in subtext is a huge one — but for now, let’s look at character voices.

You have your unique author voice, and that’s wonderful, but each character in your story needs to have a unique voice, too. They need to say things as only they would. I’m not talking about dialect, which I do not recommend, unless your name is either Mark Twain or Samuel Clemens.

It’s not easy, but here’s a simple method to think about speech patterns. Place your characters along several different spectra.

Is she terse, or does she tend to ramble? How terse or how rambly? Compare that to the other characters, and you’ll get a sense of which ones are more apt to spew a larger quantity of words at a time.

There are countless spectra you can use, and these will influence word choices, grammar, sentence structure, and more.

How formal or informal?

How smart or dumb?

How friendly or rude?

How serious or silly?

How realistic or whimsical?

How sincere or sarcastic?

And the list goes on.

It’s the difference between:

“Hey there. How’s it going? Isn’t this the most fantastical day you ever did see?”

And:

“Hello, my good sir. This is indubitably a pleasant day.”

And:

“Yo. What’s up, man? Check out this weather.”

And:

“Hey. Looks like the cumulonimbus clouds have cleared. That’s a victory for the sun.”

And:

“Yeah, I can tell it’s sunny. How nice for the weather.”

And:

“Hi.”

Not that your characters should focus on the weather, but you can see the variations in a simple situation.

Here’s a writing exercise you can try RIGHT NOW! How fun!

1) Pick a few spectra.

2) Draw each spectrum as a horizontal line, designating one end as one extreme and the opposite side as the other extreme.

3) Take a few of your characters and place them along each spectrum.

4) Write those characters in a conversation, keeping those spectra in mind. They can chat about current events, a recent sports match, or a topic related to the world of your book. Just have them talk.

5) Take away the names and see if someone else can identify the three different voices as Speaker A, Speaker B, and Speaker C.

This is all easier said than done, of course, and you don’t want to go overboard into overly colorful territory. But it might help some of you, so I throw it out there for your consideration.