We had a big month on Chase Connor Books in October, huh? Let’s get back to talking about writing, though, shall we?
Recently, I was working on a scene for a book and I was struggling with the dialogue between two characters. These are two characters who are very familiar with each other, have shared intimacy, and are in no way strangers. Yet, I struggled to make their exchange seem natural.
When two people have known each other for years, have been intimate with each other, and know practically everything about each other, why would they struggle to speak to each other? Wouldn’t those be the easiest interactions to write? Why would two people struggle to have a normal conversation?
Okay. I know I sound insane since we’re discussing two fictional characters here, but sometimes the characters in a writer’s head step out for a cigarette and the writer finds it difficult to summon them back. I know these characters aren’t real…but they feel real. At least, a writer would want their characters to feel real to the reader.
Forcing myself to stop and consider the scene, what my characters were actually talking about, I realized that I needed to approach the scene like I would real life. If I want my characters to feel like real people to the readers, maybe I should consider how two real people would speak.
When two real, live people, who have known each other a long time, have a conversation, it is not structured like a normal conversation. For example, imagine a husband coming downstairs after a good night’s rest to find his wife sitting on the couch, cuddling their dog:
Husband: *yawns* Mornin’.
Wife: *petting dog* Good morning.
Wife: Not yet.
Husband: Should I?
Wife: Please. Love you.
Husband: Mm. Love you, too.
A husband and wife wouldn’t say things like “Good morning! How are you today?” and “Is there any coffee made? Do you want me to make some?” They read each other’s verbal and physical cues. They are attuned to each other’s ways of thinking and processing information, so they can communicate with minimal words.
Formal dialogue between characters only makes sense if the characters are meeting for the first time, are unfamiliar with each other, are business associates, or something similar.
So, I realized that I needed to drop the accepted rules for how two people interact in a socially acceptable, polite way. I had to throw out the rules of etiquette.
Writers often forget (for fear of what people might say) that dialogue between characters generally does not have many rules. It just needs to feel natural. Dialogue should be written the way that characters “speak” – not the way that rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling tell us they should. It is okay to write “somethin'” instead of “something,” for example.
When it comes to dialogue, make sure the reader will read it the way your characters would sound when they “speak.” It’s one of the easiest ways to get your readers to understand and relate to your characters.
Tremendous Love & Thanks,
3 thoughts on “Talk, Talk, Talk”
Chase, first of all. Your characters are so real and alive when I read that I feel a true connection to them and miss them heartfelt when the book is finished or the series of books. You do an excellent job making them feel alive. I totally agree with you about the dialogue sounding real means a lot of difference to normal writing. The words such as slang also need to be contemporary and vivid for it to feel real. So, keep up the great writing. No matter what is seen as “proper” written language.
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Thank you, my friend!
This is a great subject, Chase. I write scenes that will be played out by actors in real time, in stage plays or screenplays. I love that you talk about naturalism. In my world, slightly different from literary prose, I can take it a little farther. I can have my characters talking over each other, which is so common in real life. I can have as many characters as I want talking in the scene at the same time, which can capture the cacophony that is real life. This can be created to some extent in prose writing, but I find it more difficult to accomplish in a way that is clear to reader. And as a dramatist i love realism and insist that my characters talk over each other sometimes. Also repetition (a tool used frequently by David Mamet) and stuttering, stammering, and “uhs” and “you knows” are good for realistic speach.
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