Most novels include dialogue. It helps to reveal character; move the plot forward, break up the wordy bits of exposition, and a lot more. What it isn’t is an exact exposition of how people actually speak. Done well, it’s an illusion of how people speak that sounds completely authentic.
Here are three tips from the experts for what NOT to do when trying to create this realistic illusion.
- Don’t use any other verb than ‘says’ or ‘said.’ You may have swallowed a Thesaurus and want to ‘expostulate’ ‘extrapolate’ or ‘explain’ etc. but more than a couple of clever alternatives to ‘said’ and the reader will start to find it tiresome.
- Don’t sink into parody. Your character may be a crafty Cockney, a tough pirate, a hard drinking gangster, a dumb blonde, a rich foreigner… A few words of the right dialect or language, a bit of slang, a carefully chosen curse, will convey this. But don’t give your reader too much of a good thing. Enough to fix the personality, or social standing of your character, without getting boring.
- Don’t let you characters speak in long perfectly formed sentences. Almost nobody does. In real life we elide words (‘I’ll’ not ‘I will’), we don’t complete sentences, and we frequently interrupt each other. We rarely get the chance to fully explain anything, so dialogue is not a good way to convey huge sections of the plot. And we rarely have time to think in poetry, let alone speak it, so don’t over-write. Unless, of course, your character is a poet.
So that’s a quick summary of what not to do. In my next post I will give three tips on what you should do when writing dialogue.
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