05 July 2011

revision: unique dialogue

We all know dialogue is an important part of fiction. As such, it's worth taking a look at when doing revisions. First things first: dialogue tags should ONLY use said or asked. Don't get creative. In fact, the prevailing wisdom is it's better not to use dialogue tags; use body language, facial expressions, or other information to let the reader know who's talking. However, don't make your characters "bobble-heads". This is an expression from one of my writing professors and indicates too much head nodding or similar actions. Watch out for this. :) A tip: many published works put the dialogue tag or action between two sentences of dialogue rather than at the beginning or end.

Another important point is every character should have unique dialogue. If I'm honest, many of my characters talk like I do in my first drafts. So, when I revise, I have to get rid of this. Ideally, each character's dialogue is so unique you wouldn't even need a dialogue tag. In a long work, I keep a cheat-sheet of slang or special unique words for each character. For example, one character might use a lot of single-syllable words, another might not use contractions. Good luck with your dialogue!

How about you? How do you deal with dialogue?


Fiona Faith Maddock said...

It is one of the hardest things, to get to know your characters well enough to be fluent with their individual way of speaking.

I think it comes with a lot of practice and reworking and, as you say, the indispensible cheat-sheet.

My characters each have their favourite swear words, or slang expressions. One has a 'settee in his lounge', another has a 'sofa in her sitting room', etc, but it takes ages to build these profiles.

Sofa, so good. (Sorry, couldn't resist).

Martin Willoughby said...

I put myself in the head of the character and it usually comes out correct. When I read some of my dialogue and I don;t know who's talking I know I have trouble...unless they're twins.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I think working with diction is only the start. The main differentiation is WHAT they say, not how they say it. Conflict is one of the easiest ways to set this up-put your characters on opposite sides of an issue and it's easy for readers to figure out who is saying what.

John S. Barker said...

It's very easy to overuse and overdo the slang/unique words method of differentiation. Your characters quickly become caricatures. What they are saying needs to be unique enough for the reader to associate the voice with the character without sounding artificial. That's true of internal monologs and character-oriented narration as well.