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How do you write your Dialogue?

Discussion in 'The Authors' Café' started by Blue Saturday, Sep 21, 2012.

  1. Blue Saturday

    Blue Saturday too fly

    Dialogue is definitely one of my biggest challenges, mainly because I'm pretty inexperienced in writing it on the fly. I don't mean having my character say things, I mean in the sense of deciding how they would say it and making it sound realistic and like something they would say. For example, an older man wouldn't say something like "rot in hell", because it might sound immature if the man is say, a teacher who is wise and knowledgeable. He wouldn't say "You're going down!" either since that sounds a bit too much like something an adolescence would say. When it comes to dialogue I'm pretty inexperienced in the matter.

    Children would use less complex words than older people, but at the same time I wonder about how I should write the older people in a sense. It's complicated. How do you figure out and write your dialogue for a character? I'm trying to improve this and make it a bit more pitch perfect, since anyone worth their salt knows that it takes enriching dialogue to have good character interactions and moments. With me it's I write it, edit it, don't like it, edit it more, don't like it, scrap it, rewrite it, edit it, blah blah blah. Ad Infinitum. A new tactic I was thinking of trying out was basing character dialogue off real life talking, for example a wise man in his early 30's dialogue would be somewhat similar to my head coach's talking and speech. A teenager's would be similar to how one of my teammates talk, I could soon stop basing it off their speak and go from there. In essence when I write dialogue I try to give a good portrayal of the character's personality as well.

    Your thoughts?
  2. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine ██████████

    The trick is not to separate dialogue from characterization. What a character says depends completely on who they are as people (as you've already guessed), so if you can figure out their personalities, figuring out what would and wouldn't fit for what they would say will become significantly easier. I do see why this would be problematic because a lot of people try to force characters to say something for the sake of the plot/a relationship/something outside themselves, but those kinds of shenanigans do come off unnatural and awkward. So you actually have to do the reverse, by getting into your characters' heads and letting them lay down the scene just like you would go about any of your own business in real life (as in, doing what you'd do because it's normal for you to do it).

    It definitely helps to know a bit of basic psychology or to do a bit of people watching. Sure, one of those sounds pretentious, but all I mean is "it helps to know how people actually work." Absolutely, observing how people act in real life will help you develop your characters because you begin to learn how people act naturally, so you can take that knowledge and adapt it to anything you do concerning characters. You don't have to limit yourself just to the kinds of folks you know; you just have to figure out the part where "personality = cause; speech = effect" and how those two link together.

    So in short, I guess you could say it's pretty simple to explain, but it's very easy to screw up. Base dialogue on personality and situation, not dialogue on situation alone.
  3. Psychic

    Psychic Really and truly Staff Member Moderator

    The key to knowing how people speak is, amazingly enough...just listening to people speak!

    When you go out in public, try taking the time to listen to particular people of varying ages, races, economic classes, you name it. Pay attention not only to their words, but where they place the emphasis, their body language, and other ways they convey meaning. See what you can glance from their relationship by how they interact - what does their conversation say about their background, their history? Try to write down a line or two (perhaps marking down who said it), and even transcribe a conversation if you can.

    Additionally, consider the motives behind what people say, and whether they are telling the full truth, or saying one thing and perhaps thinking another. Not everyone says everything they think, and learning how to recognize implications in speech, and also be able to write them, is pretty fascinating in itself.

    Alternatively, pay attention to dialogue in books, movies and tv shows. for the latter two, you can often find the scripts the actors read from online, and see what you can learn from how other writers handle dialogue. Some are certainly better than others, but discerning that can also help you get a better ear for good dialogue.

    That's really my main advice. I consider myself to be pretty good at writing dialogue, and a big part of it is simply knowing how people talk. Even my own expertise is pretty limited to young adults (as that's the demographic I tend to hang out with), so I don't know if I'm quite as strong writing other characters. Nobody's perfect, but you have to give yourself the chance to actually know how people speak before you try imitating it in writing.

    Best of luck!

  4. Ninja Bulbasaur

    Ninja Bulbasaur Well-Known Member

    Well, it matters. Like Psychic said above me, use what you hear people around you talk like, and if you watch an assortment of TV shows/anime, look at the difference between the ages for type of speech. I can relate to your struggles, as I am a new writer here, and I often have to edit it. Using your character's personality as you write dialogue is also good advice. For example, if the person talking is angry at another character, they'd say something around the lines of, "Stop it," or "Can you please be quiet?!". If the person is rude/blatant, they'd say something like, 'Piss off!" or "Shut up, you %$#@!". It's always a good idea to look into that, and also what;s going around in the background. They might speak in forced formality if in front of authority, but talk rather ghetto-like when they're alone. And what the character is feeling at the moment is good, too. If they're feeling frustrated, and a friend asks them if they're alright, it'd depend on the personality/control of the character to see if they say something like, "Nothing, or, 'I"M FINE, DAMMIT!"

    The advice seems a bit cliche, sorry >.<

    ;151; Ninja
  5. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    All I can say on this is that you have to know your characters. Really know them, and then their dialogue, along with everything else they do, should come naturally. Ultimately, as you're writing a character you should be able to think like they do, to simulate them in your mind, and simulating exactly what they'd say is just an extension of simulating exactly what they'd think.

    This might therefore be a little difficult if it's a character you've only just started writing about. Although you'll probably have a certain idea in your head of what they should be like, you don't truly know them at this point, and it's harder to get their speech to sound right for the person you think they probably are but haven't been able to explore yet. For instance, there's a character from the story I wrote for NaNoWriMo whom I'd had the idea of in my head for months before I actually started writing him. Despite this, in his earlier scenes, I wasn't completely sure how his dialogue should sound, but I wrote it as best I could and it seemed to work. As I wrote more of him I got more used to him and gained a greater sense of exactly who he was and how the way he thinks influences what he says, such that by the time I went back to edit his earlier scenes after having completed the first draft of the whole story, his dialogue in those scenes suddenly sounded all wrong. It had seemed fine when I originally wrote it; nothing had changed in between me writing it and editing it except how well I understood the character.

    So if you don't yet know a character well enough to be able to effortlessly write their dialogue? Get to know them better. And to do that, the only real way is to write them. It doesn't have to be anything you're planning on showing to anyone; just write scenes with them in. If there's some event that you know happened in their past but isn't important enough to be in the story, try writing that. Heck, even just shove them in an interesting alternate-universe situation that never actually happens to them in the actual story, just to explore how they'd react. The more you write them, the more you'll get to understand how they work, and the more you understand how they work, the easier it'll be to know how they speak. Those things Psychic said about how not everyone says exactly what they're thinking, how they might hide things from other people, leave unspoken implications, all sorts like that - that's the kind of thing you'll only really be able to figure out once you truly know your character.

    (Obviously, if it's a background character who's not that important to your story and whom you're never going to really get to know that well, then you won't want to bother doing so - but equally it won't be remotely as important to have their speech be truly organic. No-one's going to pay too much attention to the way they say what they're saying, anyway, so just coming up with something that sounds approximately believable for someone in that situation is all you really need to do in that case.)
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2012
  6. Alliance

    Alliance Re-Arrival

    The way I personally decide on what my characters might say is possibly a little different, but it works.
    Basically, I pretend to be them, and sort of roleplay the situation and how this character would react. By doing that, I also get a feel of the character and can write them well in future. But that's just me.

    With the differences between ages, it really does depend on the person, their occupation and their personality. If they're a, say, 30 year old scientist who is no-nonsense, you might get clipped speech that's to the point. However, if you have a 30 year old unemployed who acts like a kid, you might see something similar to how adolesence speaks, with abbreviations and not taking it too seriously. Even though both characters are the same age, the key factors of who they are changes it all.

    Another thing with dialogue is that a character won't always do the same things. Let's use that scientist, for instance. If he was doing an experiment and had his dangerous chemicals spill all over his lab, he might panic and not be as clipped and formal. He might even come close to obscenities if it were to spill on him.

    The circumstances and the personality you want this person to have to reaction to this event is up to you. All these factors should be considered when writing dialogue. It gets easier when you written this character talking and interacting several times, as you become familiar with how they would speak and it becomes easier to write.

    Just my two cents~


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