Using Dialogue (and Its Punctuation) Correctly
How dost thou biddest me speak?
Hopefully, not in that manner, unless you're writing about Tony Stark poking fun at how Thor talks.
Even though I'm not an expert on dialogue, I am going to drop some nuggets of – hopefully – helpful advice on how to make your characters come to life through speech... Well, I'm going to try, anyway.
I'll use Tony Stark for an example. If you've seen any of the Marvel movies, you know he's stuck-up, selfish, narcissistic, and quite sarcastic. EVERYONE knows that because of how he is played. But what if you weren't watching one of the movies with Iron Man and you were just reading the script? That's where dialogue comes into play.
You add in so-called 'dialogue beats' like 'scoffed, yelled, said with a roll of his eyes, etc.' They don't only have to be how your character speaks, either; 'emotional beats' are how they act, like raising an eyebrow, the tightening of the eyes when they're angry, or a constant twitch when they're nervous. Showing the reader how the character feels is always better than telling us straight-up that they're angry. But don't do it every time; balance the 'dialogue/emotional/action beats' with normal tags.
Here's a good article to check out: http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/improve-my-writing/amp-up-dialogue-with-emotional-beats
If you're writing about a military man, have him speak as one would if military-trained with technical descriptions, and sound robotic. If your character is a girl who gets flustered easily, have her stammer in her answers; make her say 'Umm...' or use 'like' a lot.
Another thing is to remember what time era your story is taking place in. A modern saying like 'It ain't over till the fat lady sings' won't fit in well if your main character is in Scotland in the 1500's. Keep your choice of words as close to what the actual lingo would be back then. If you're not sure, do research or read other's books that are set in that time frame and mimic their way of writing. *I'm not saying plagiarize their works by copying the dialogue word-by-word, I'm saying take inspiration from them if you're wondering how exactly a man in the Jim Crowe South would speak.*
The easiest way to effectively portray someone's character is to watch how people talk in real life. Humans typically don't talk in short sentences, unless they're annoyed, mad, or trying to get across that they don't want to be bothered – that's when it's accepted to use one-worded replies like 'Yep' or 'Whatever'. (Just remember to add a 'dialogue beat' to show their mood like 'shrugged'.) Then again, your main character may be prone to speak in one-worded replies, but it's best to have your character established as such so not to confuse the reader. People ramble, we beat-around-the-bush often; we rarely get straight to the point. Sometimes, it varies on the person. Say an ER nurse drives up on a horrible car wreck with many severe injuries – she's going to keep levelheaded as she tends to the wounded, possibly barking out orders because she knows what to do. Unlike a random civilian who has never seen that much blood – they're going to freak out, panic. Show all of this through your dialogue and 'action beats'.
Also remember not to use short-hand or text-speak in your writing. People in real life usually don't say 'IDK' or 'BRB' – they say it out loud. (Some in real life might, but I've never met anyone who did.)
Dialogue punctuation is a biggie; it's something that needs to be addressed. Some readers may not think it's a big deal, but if you want to be taken seriously and not distract readers – like me – with your poor punctuation, do dialogue punctuation correctly by reading others' works (preferably published works or authors you know have experience) and learn from them, or just teach yourself through guides. It's not hard.
I'd list examples, but this quick, simple guide does it better: http://theeditorsblog.net/2010/12/08/punctuation-in-dialogue/
Even though I've seen examples of all these problems that I have listed, there's one issue I've seen countless times and new authors struggle with: forced writing. I'll quote Chersti Nieveen on what 'forced writing' means: "When a book (or short story) no longer feels organic to the author's voice or original intent." It's when the writing is stiff, no flow or just feels like every other story with different character names. The characters don't act according to their already established traits - forcing them to say something that might not be true to their character. For example: character A must say something here so character B can deliver this punch-line. That's a definite no-no. Dialogue so unnatural that it makes a reader cringe. A mysterious event/savior that pops out-of-the-blue to save/rescue the characters. That's just lazy writing. If the author doesn't care about the story/wants it to hurry up and end, the readers will feel the same.
All of this tends to happen when the author has lost inspiration, has 'fallen out of love' with the story, that dreaded thing called writer's block, making yourself write (insert amount) or words a day, or as I have seen on Wattpad, jumping on a bandwagon to write something because it's popular. How do you prevent/solve this problem, you ask? Well, there's no definite solution. In a lot of cases of 'forced writing', it's due to maturity. When I was younger, my writing was riddled with 'forced writing'. It took some time for me to grow in my writing career, and now, I can catch myself when I 'force' a character or something. Another thing you can do to help is take a break from writing on that story – play some games, read other works, write on a different story. Revisit that story after some time and maybe your inspiration will be back – I had that happen to me, I focused on completing something else and when I came back, I had my muse (inspiration) again.
The one thing to keep in mind though is to never give up. Never stop writing. You will become better if you don't quit.
What is the best dialogue you can think of? Why is that special to you?
YOU ARE READING
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