I’ve been told that one of the hardest aspects of story telling falls on believable dialogue. People want characters to be realistic in a sense that their conversation feels organic. They build off of each other, even in nonsensical tales that don’t exist to convey a realistic setting. (We’re looking at you Lewis Carroll)
Truthfully, dialogue was always one of the areas I struggled in the most. My obstacles lied in not making the character sound and speak like myself. After all, I’m creating the character. Their dialogue is an extension of my own. How could they not sound like me? Even characters that were written to be my polar opposite, such as a Caucasian female, who grew up in Seattle, under wealthy parents with no siblings or pets, would speak, act, and rationalize thoughts like Jae. This was a major problem for me. I wanted people to be taken away by my stories, not sat down in front of a camp fire while I read them aloud. I wanted to build worlds that weren’t seen as “obviously from Jae.”
So to combat this issue I’ve taken two different strategies. The first strategy is one that may seem to be the easiest. Rather than create a speech pattern or word choice for characters, I base them off of people I know. By using these already well established staples in my life, I don’t have to worry about finding catch phrases or possible colloquialisms for them, because they are already pre-established in the real world. So if I write a character that hails from the fairer side of Sacramento, there’s a personality for that already in my database, so that character will be “hecka easy” to write about, “breh.”
The other strategy I’ve taken a liking to is to write out entire backgrounds for each character. This route is a bit more involved, but it helps create some pretty varied archetypes. I’ll give a character a birth place, a family, an economic status, a defining event, a hobby, and even a quirk, such as, they bite their nails. This pretty much gives me a psychological profile for the character to help steer them in conversations a bit more organically. The nail biter from the low income family, may be a bit timid during conversations, causing them to speak in shorter sentences and take pauses. The married smoker may be a bit antsy during conversations, talking in run-on sentences, unless he got a bit of nicotine in his system beforehand. This route is, by all accounts, my favorite. It’s the one I’m using in my current “top secret” project.
However you choose to look at it, dialogue is one of the most important tools in a writer’s belt. The more natural it sounds, the better the reader’s experience. I am in no way a master of the craft, but I am definitely on the verge of perfecting my own voice. I hope you guys can use the methods I explained today in your own “secret” projects.
Now go forth and write. We’ll see you next week for another iteration of Workshop Wednesday’s!
“If another student brings me a red apple!!! Green! I want green ones!” — Professor Jae