Preptober #3: “Write” Way to Talk (Perfecting Dialogue)

The third week of October is upon us and I have another preptober prompt and discussion. This week we’ll be talking about dialogue.

I’ve only read one or two novels were dialogue wasn’t important, so I’ll say that focusing on how your characters talk is not only important but crucial to making your story flow. A lot of plot can be determined through dialogue. Character development can happen through dialogue.

Don’t worry if you’re actually terrible at dialogue. It’s something to practice in preptober as well as polish over drafts.

I’m going to break up dialogue into two different talking points: in-character dialogue and first person narrative–because believe it or not, the thoughts of the narrator (if they’re the main character) is a lot like dialogue.

In Character Dialogue

People talking around table provided by Jessica Da Rosa

I’m focusing most on modern day conversations. If you’re writing in something centuries ago, I would say take the time in November just to get what you want the characters to mean down in writing and later on read some authentic work from that time (especially if you can find a diary or two of the time you’d get a better idea on how they talk).

In the modern world, people talk pretty plainly. I went to school for broadcast journalism which means every day we wrote scripts that could be read over the air and not stumble on or confuse people.

It broke down into:

  • write in simple terms, with the most concise words
  • avoid prepositions at almost all costs

Listen to people talk around you. People don’t use extremely large words (for the most part) and the sentences are usually subject-verb in the simplest format. Or in some cases, complete fragments.

I would recommend taking a chance to listen to people on your commute, at parties, in line at the grocery store, or at restaurants (and if it’s not too weird take notes).

There are a few ways you can use this to your advantage. Imagine you have an absurdly smart character. If most people speak in simple terms, you can throw in a big word or two just to cement the character. People reading will know it’s them without even needing an said so-and-so tag. You can do the same with prepositions for someone who’s long winded and just won’t stop talking.

Using slang or other words unique to a character, and fragments helps develop the character in dialogue.

First Person Narration

I feel that some people forget (specifically in the first draft) that the first person narration is also your character. Do not make the narration flowery and over the top if your character isn’t. You will need to thoroughly understand the voice of your character before you can even write the narration.

I recommend finding one of those old quizzes people did on MySpace and Facebook where you answer 20 questions about yourself or the “ABCs” of yourself, but answer them as your character would–all the way down to how they would type it.

Once you have that, you can better understand them as a real person, making it easier to write a story as them–which is what first person narration is.

Quick and Dirty Way to Understand Dialogue Flow

Now, you might be like, Bee how the devil do you make dialogue sound good?

That’s a good question. I’ve been inundated with dialogue for nearly a decade. Broadcast news and television ad work both have the same need: to be understood right away…by everyone. Basically the keep it simple stupid mindset. So I’ve been able to feel out what sounds good and what doesn’t.

But with my own writing I do the dumbest thing that has been a lifesaver. I read my dialogue out loud but in the most absurd accent I can muster.

It does two things: it slows you down to actually read the line and it shows where you stumble/where it’s awkward.

It feels dumb and I don’t recommend it in public but it does make me stop and reflect on my dialogue for just a few minutes.

Let me know your tips for dialogue and if any of my tips helped you in the comments below. And I’ll see you next week with our final installment of Preptober.

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