Character Points to Consider When Writing Dialogue
Following on from my post yesterday about naturalistic dialogue, I wanted to talk a little more in depth about it.
Remember that naturalistic speech for one character is very different to naturalistic speech for another character. Everyone has their own way of speaking, their individual quirks and nuances.
There are many things about your character which will affect the way in which they speak, and the words they use:
- Who they are talking to. Someone older or younger than them. Someone of higher or lower status. Someone they know well or a stranger.
- Their age
- Their level of education (whether through an establishment, home-schooled, or self-taught)
- Their accent, or blend of different accents
- Any speech impediment, social or mental disorder, facial injuries or disfigurement, or recovery from illness eg a stroke
- If they wear false teeth
- Their hearing ability
- Their general upbringing
- Their level of self-confidence
- The person they view themselves as
- The person they want people to think they are
- Whether or not they are speaking in their first language
- Morality and beliefs
I’m writing a story where a character is cursed and is immortal, and they were born in the victorian era and now it’s modern times. Anyway, do you have any tips on old fashioned language? -Anonymous
Well, that depends on your character’s background. For example, if they were born into the British upper classes, they’ll speak differently to if they were in the lower classes in America. See where I’m coming from?
Generally, for upper classes, go for long words and long sentences. Semi-colons are your friend. And for the lower classes, slang slang slang.
This is a gross generalisation, but hopefully it gives you the basic idea.
Also don’t forget that if the character’s immortal, they’re probably likely to have assimilated somewhat, so don’t be afraid to mix Victorian and modern language and speech patterns. It could add a whole other layer =]
Here are some awesome resources that explain things way better than I ever could:
- Victorian Language, a brief summary
- Criminal Slang, doesn’t have everything but does have it in context, which is helpful
- Victorian Slang Glossary, more comprehensive than the above
- The Etiquette of Conversation, more about how you should say things politely than what you should say, but you might find it useful =]
- Victorian Vernacular, a forum thread on Steampunk Empire with some cool links and tips
- And here’s a really cool collection of obscure English words
Apart from that, I suggest you just google the type of thing you want and/or read some Victorian books - start with Oliver Twist and go from there =]
I hope this was helpful!
A Few Posts on Punctuating Dialogue
Anonymous asked: I’m having trouble punctuating dialogue correctly. Can you help me out?
- Dialogue Formatting Tutorial: Star Wars Version
- Two Tips for Punctuating Interrupted Dialogue
- Punctuation: The Quotation Mark
- Punctuation and Italics
- Writer’s Relief Blog: “Halt! How To Punctuate A…Dramatic Pause”
- WriteWorld’s Punctuation Tag
- WriteWorld’s Dialogue Tag
Thank you for your question! If you have further questions or a comment to add, hit us up!
“Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people. The naming of the world, which is an act of creation and re-creation, is not possible if it is not infused with love. Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and dialogue itself. It is thus necessarily the task of responsible Subjects and cannot exist in a relation of domination. Domination reveals the pathology of love: sadism in the dominator and masochism in the dominated. Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause—the cause of liberation. And this commitment, because it is loving, is dialogical. As an act of bravery, love cannot be sentimental; as an act of freedom, it must not serve as a pretext for manipulation. It must generate other acts of freedom; otherwise, it is not love. Only by abolishing the situation of oppression is it possible to restore the love which that situation made impossible. If I do not love the world—if I do not love life—if I do not love people—I cannot enter into dialogue.”—“Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Paulo Freire
Word List: Alternatives to "Ask"
ellisabelle asked: Hey ^^ Could I request a world list of adjectives for ‘To Ask’?
Disclaimer: I will agree to provide examples if you will all agree to acknowledge that I am laying it on a bit thick here and maybe even taking a few liberties in order to drive my points home. Okay? Okay.
to ask: Say something in order to obtain an answer or some information.
“Once we get there, we can find a motel,” Tina said, tapping the map with the eraser of her pencil.
Jason turned the map toward himself. “Get where?” he asked.
Should Dialogue be Naturalistic?
The simple answer is no. The useful answer is no, but it should appear naturalistic.
Listen to people speaking in everyday situations. They don’t finish sentences, they stumble over their words, they backtrack and repeat themselves. In conversation people speak in a way that an outside observer wouldn’t know what they were talking about, they use in-jokes and slang particular to their family or group of friends.
It is these things that you want to filter out of your written dialogue (unless using it for a specific effect).
Let your dialogue appear naturalistic without being naturalistic.
About if they got nervous when performing for a lot of people
- Normani: And it's good to have each other also, cause I don't know what I would do like personally if I had to go through it by myself.
- All the girls: Awwwwww
- Interviewer: Everyone is hugging Normani, everyone is hugging everyone right now.
- Lauren: It's just a thing we do, hug people.
Dialogue Formatting Tutorial: Star Wars Version
(You can also read this tutorial in the Harry Potter Version. Brilliant!)
Ah, the dreaded dialogue formatting—something that many people get right, but many more get wrong. Where do you use a comma and where a period? What should be capitalized and what shouldn’t? And why? Dialogue formatting isn’t easy to get right, and it’s easy to forget the rules, especially when published authors do it too. But, just as in the rest of the rules of grammar, dialogue formatting has its own reasons for what’s correct and what’s not, and hopefully once you know why commas go here and periods go there, and this is capitalized and that isn’t, you can keep this in mind when you write people talking to each other. Note that most of my examples are canon pieces of dialogue, but some are off the top of my head.
Let’s start with something simple. Here is a piece of correctly formatted dialogue:
“No, I am your father,” Darth Vader said.
Look at the word “said”. That is what’s known as a dialogue tag; tags are verbs that connect the dialogue itself to the rest of the sentence. Other tags include “asked”, “exclaimed”, “replied”, and all those variations. Dialogue tags are ways of describing the dialogue, if it’s being said, or asked, or screamed, etc.
'Iron Man' deleted scene - Tony and Yinsen snark-off
from the Phase One box set.
[Scene: Tony Stark and Yinsen in the cave.]
YINSEN: [carving wood] Hey, Stark. Guess what I’m making?
TONY: If I’d have to venture a guess, I’d say a crappy backgammon board.
YINSEN: This is Lebanese cedar.
TONY: Oh, I thought you were Persian.
YINSEN: I’m impressed you even know what this is. Tell you what, when I finish making it, I’ll teach you how to play.
TONY: That’ll be swell. I’m a little rusty since I haven’t played since I was backgammon champ four years running at MIT.
YINSEN: Really? Interesting, I was the champ at Cambridge.
TONY: Did you just say “interesting” and “Cambridge” in the same sentence? I think that’s an oxymoron. Was that even a school?
YINSEN: It’s a university, and you probably haven’t heard of it because Americans can’t get in.
TONY: Right, unless you’re teaching.