How to be a Master of Dialogue
Updated: Dec 31, 2022
For writers of any genre,
Are you struggling with the voices of your characters, differentiating between multiple characters, and the purpose or the impactfulness of their conversations? Well, I can help you there!
I'm JK Noble, author of the young adult fantasy series HALE which consists of approximately two dozen characters. Here are my tips and tricks to get your readers drooling over the conversations your characters share!
1. Build your characters!
This step might seem pretty obvious. However, if your character isn't solid, then the way they speak will contradict their personality. Here are some questions you could answer for yourself to help you build your character, and therefore their conversation.
How does your character think?
What are they passionate about?
What do they stand for, or do not stand for?
Where do they come from? Where is their place of birth, or where did they grow up? This is an important question, for as we know, origin has a lot to do with speech. Even here on Earth, every place of origin offers unique phrases, languages, dialects, and accents! Not to mention every culture has its own religion, beliefs, and outlooks on life. If you are a fiction or nonfiction writer, writing about Earth, it would do well to research the place of origin of your characters, as well as time period. If your characters belong to a fantasy world that you cannot simply google, build up that world, create beliefs, traditions, and even an accent.
Should you include accents in your writing since they might confuse the readers?
I had the same worry when I first wrote about an Irishman named Garet in HALE. As a great lover of accents, I wanted to represent Garet authentically, which for me meant to write the accent down as it sounds. However, this does stifle some readers who are not used to that. Yet, there are many authors like Harper Lee and Mark Twain who do this too, and while it challenges the reader, it is quite fun, creative, and gives that character an extra bit of life. Many authors rather verbally express that their characters have an accent without showing it in their dialogue, like this: with a thick English accent he said, "Who goes there!" And there are tons of successful writers that don't feel the need to go into depth in terms of diverse languages, dialects, and accents. There is no right or wrong way to go about this! You can be as creative as you like!
For more information on how to build your character, check out this blog post: How to Write a Realistic Character
2. Get into your character's head!
Now that you know the ins and outs of your character, you need to get into their heads. Take, for example, an old couple that's lived together for most of their lives. They can finish one another's sentences because they know each other so well. Don't think of your character as an extension of you. Think of them as their own entity, truly living in the world you invented. They have their own personal goals they need to achieve, and their own lessons they need to learn. How would your character perceive the world around them? How would they react to certain people?
3. Types of conversations
While we might not realize, there are different types of conversations people have.
A conversation with a goal. Take, for example, a person who wishes to experience romance with another. So while conversing with the one they admire, they might offer many flirtatious lines that hope to flatter the other person and make their feelings known. This also depends on the type of people we are discussing. A confident, bold person would have no trouble approaching and flirting with the one they admire, while a shy type might fumble with their words and beat around the bush.
Emotions play a big role in conversations! What are your characters feeling? If our shy type is fearful of rejections when approaching the one they desire, how might they speak?
An exchange of information. Gossiping, learning about someone, informing, and teaching are all exchanges of information, whether good or bad. What does your character need to learn and from whom? How do they share information, and how will they react to the information?
Arguing and confrontation. For there to be any sort of arguing and confrontation, the characters need to have an established relationship. Arguments allow us to see the difference in the way two characters think. Both parties might be right at the same time, both might have good intentions. For example, a domestic argument in which one spouse gets a job in another region, requiring the family to move. The family needs money to survive, which is a valid choice for moving. However, the other spouse worries over their children changing homes, living far from friends and family, and dealing with other such responsibilities. In this case, both people have valid arguments. It is not so much who is right or wrong in such cases, but rather how far will they go to convey their point. Will they become abusive? Curse? Will they belittle the other? Result to bad habits such as drinking, drug use, or self-abuse? Will they give the other a cold shoulder?
After all, the saying goes, you don't truly know a person until you've angered or opposed them.
After some arguments are make-ups. This doesn't necessarily need to happen, for in a lot of stories, opposing beliefs lead to a protagonist and antagonist that battle one another.
For more information on arguments and making up, check out this blog post:
How To Write a Realistic Argument
4. BODY LANGUAGE!
Every time I hear the words: body language, I imagine Ursula from The Little Mermaid shaking her caboose, haha.
You most definitely do not need to use dialogue alone to express an exchange between two or more people!
In the Victorian era, when two people wished to flirt with one another, they would create different signals with their fans. How romantic! Why were fans a great way to express desire? They were objects that brought attention to the face, they were innocent ways to flirt for women in that era, and they were super cool because each gesture is a code.
However, you don't need to use hand fans as a way to communicate in your writing. You could simply use ordinary body language such as crossing one's arms or pointing one's feet.
What about facial expressions? We all know we frown when sad, and grimace when disgusted. But did you know that there are 43 different muscles in our face, which can create over 10,000 expressions! Facial cues are a great way to know what a person is thinking, even when they are hiding something. Something I learned from the show, Lie to Me, many years ago. As an exercise, you can research different expressions of body language that correlate with emotion, and come up with ways to incorporate them in your writing.
Try mixing body language with dialogue for a more authentic feel for your readers!
Hope these tips and tricks help you master the art of dialogue! Leave your thoughts in the comments below!