Writing Unique Dialogue
Post was suggested by @silverinkgoldenquill.
Writing dialogue seems to be one of those things that you either love or hate to write. It can be tricky to find the right balance between dialogue that could realistically come out of a person’s mouth and yet still making it readable. That’s one of the first key things to remember when it comes to dialogue: normal people don’t speak in a way that is very appropriate for reading, but you don’t want to make them sound like pretentious robots. Skip the like, uh, um, stuttering, and other parts of casual speech unless it’s appropriate to the character and the situation. Which brings me to the main part of this post.
How do you make dialogue unique for each character?
- Listen to other people talk. Maybe
you weren’t expecting this tip and maybe it sounds odd, but a writer is a
people watcher. When you’re talking to your family or friends (or standing in
line at the grocery store with a bunch of strangers) try to listen to some of
the unique markers of their speech. Do they use a lot of idioms or common
phrases? Do they speak quickly and to the point, or do they speak with a lot of
detail? Do they stutter? Ramble? Swear? Again, you probably won’t write the
dialogue exactly like it sounds out loud but you can pick up some ways that you
can make it more realistic and unique.
- Use dialogue to match and enhance
the character. If your character is a professor they could sound more proper,
maybe use less contractions and a higher vocabulary. To make it more personal
decide if this character is more humble in their education or is unbearably pretentious.
A teenager doesn’t usually speak like their parents and the parents don’t speak
like the grandparents. An athlete doesn’t usually speak like a lawyer. Keep in
mind that this doesn’t necessarily mean that their speech is higher or lower,
but they have different nuances that reflect who they are and what they’ve
experienced. Make their personalities come across in their dialogue by using
sarcasm, making them very factual, vulgar, optimistic, childish or whatever
else they are. On that note…
- Keep in mind the character’s culture
and history. (Before we go into this, I want to warn you to be wary of
stereotyping). Speech has everything to do with culture. From a broad sense the
country the character is from can hugely impact the dialogue, whether that’s
because they are speaking in a language other than their first and occasionally
make some mistakes and have an accent, or have different vocabulary from others
(chips vs fries, zee vs zed). There’s also more local differences like city vs
rural, class difference, educational background, upbringing, etc. Just remember
not to go overboard. For example, if you’re trying to show the character has an
accent DO NOT write everything they say phonetically because it will be
incredibly annoying to read so choose carefully when and how to show it.