Tuesday, February 7, 2017

don't sound the same.

I read Abused, a mystery novel by a student. One thing kept me from enjoying the book as much as I had hoped to. Everyone talked the same.

"I left George at Lily's,” Clyde said. “His woman worked there too. They'd go home together. The Prof's home was in the street. Hard times all around. Had nothing to do. I went home alone."

Clyde, the protagonist, talks like that. He's a streetwise ex-con who fights for the rights of abused children. Readers will believe he talks like this:

"Dave was a quiet man. Hillbilly. Not into jawing. Didn't do much talking. He came to Chicago when the work ran out back where he was from. His woman followed him. She was a looker."

Clyde was a hard-bitten, terse character and that dialogue worked for him. Where the author lost me was when we were introduced to Kate, a waitress in a small diner who was actually a doctor from Wisconsin. To my surprise, she talked exactly like Clyde.

"I'm not a nurse. Never was. I'm a doctor. Just finished school. I start my internship in late September. Back home. In West Allis. Pediatrics."

Both the hard-bitten ex-con from New York and a waitress, who's a doctor, who was born and raised in Wisconsin, sound the same.

Try to give each character his or her own voice just as you have given them their own eye color and background. You should be able to identify each character by what he or she says.

In real life, we all sound different; use different words, expressions, euphemisms, dialects, speech styles and varied inflections. To create characters who sound different from one another, consider these points.
  •      Consider the literacy of your characters and decide how articulate they are in conversation. 
  •      Decide on special components such as the tone of their voices and the quality.
  •      Do they use slang or proper English?
  •      Are their sentences short or long and involved? 
  •      Consider the background and environment of the characters. 
  •      Their attitude towards others. 
  •      How do the characters see themselves?
  •      Are they angry because they have never been loved? 
  •     Are they suspicious of others because of harm done to them in the past?
After writers are told that dialogue can be used to present information they frequently load their dialogue with too much information (TMI), which makes the dialogue unbelievable.

"Why, Frank, I haven't seen you since Crescent Heights high school, right after your parents were killed in that air crash in San Diego, when a navy jet flew into that 747 and 250 people died and 18 were injured and you had to go to work selling guitars and missed medical school."

Obviously, the character is telling Frank stuff he already knows. Some writers pack so many facts into dialogue, conversation that should sound natural sounds artificial and mechanical. One function of dialogue is to inform while blending character and action. Just don't overdo it with TMI.

You can mimic the cadences of natural speech, but only to a point. Do not stick in the “ums” “likes” and pauses, which happen in real conversations. When one character interrupts another, your pacing slows down, so strive to keep speeches reasonably short.

Some other ways to improve your dialogue.

·       As Stephen King says in his memoir, "the adverb is not your friend." In fact, he believes "the road to hell is paved with adverbs" and compares them to dandelions that ruin your lawn. So try not to overuse them.

·     New writers often have their characters calling each other by name multiple times during a single conversation, even when they’re the only people in the room. Don’t do it.

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.) http://smarturl.it/novsec

Lary Crews