One of my favorite parts of writing is working on a character’s voice, figuring out how to make that first person narrator pitch perfect and real and unique. (You can check out my blog post on voice over at the Harperteen site). And going along with that, I also love creating the voices of the secondary characters through their dialogue.
I agree with what the other Novel Girls have written so far, about dialogue having to serve a purpose, advance the story, and show emotion, but truthfully, as I’m writing, I don’t think about any of that. What I do instead is listen to my characters’ voices. In my head. Yes, I actually hear them in there talking to me. Maybe this also makes me a little crazy, but this is the only way I know how to write dialogue, to actually hear the characters speaking to me as if they were acting out a scene in a movie.
As they talk to me, I learn things about them, what kind of people they are, through their choice of words, by the way they say things. I learn if they are overly formal or aloof or sweet or even prone to cursing. I really think that the way a character says something can tell you more about a character than almost any description you could provide. There’s nothing I hate worse than reading a book where I feel all the dialogue, all the voices sound the same. In real life, the way we say things, the way we sound and gesture and act as we speak is what gives us our voices. I think the same is true in fiction.
Along with listening for my characters, I also try to envision what they’re doing as they’re talking because I’ve realized that in real life, we usually are doing something. Very rarely do two people ever sit face to face perfectly still and just talk – there’s always some movement, some gesture, or some activity.
When I’m reading a book, I like to read dialogue that doesn’t feel like dialogue. I want to lose myself in the story and imagine two real people in front of me having a real conversation. And if can pull this off as a writer, then that makes the voices in my head throughout the process entirely worth it!