Thursday, July 28, 2016

DIALOGUE AND CHARACTERIZATION FROM REAL LIFE

by Jackie King
Realistic dialogue with clear attributions makes the characters in your story come alive. Natural sounding dialogue helps distinguish one character from another. 

The death knell for a writer:
Have you ever been reading, and suddenly wondered which character is speaking? I have, and the experience frustrates me. I'm forced to stop reading and count quotation marks backward to the last attribution, then count forward to learn who’s talking. I’m annoyed right out of the story. I want to throw the book across the room. If I haven’t bonded with the characters in a special way, I might quit and move to another book in my TBR (to be read) stack.

Solution to the problem:
Dialogue confusion occurs when attributions aren’t given or when characters all sound alike. Realistic dialogue makes the people in a story come alive. Natural sounding dialogue can help distinguish one character from another even without names. If there's any doubt about the reader knowing who is speaking, use the simple attribution, said The word, "said," is almost invisible to American readers. Don't be afraid to use it .

 How do we keep the reader turning pages?
Try the following exercise to hone this skill:

Write a scene with three people without using names of characters.

I did this in a class once, and it was so much fun! I chose a high school principal’s office as the setting. The three characters were a teenage boy, his father and the principal. I worked all afternoon on this project, and finally achieved the goal to my satisfaction. I used body language and conversation only. No names.

My challenge:
The boy needed to sound young, and inexperienced. He's embarrassed, and intimidated  by the situation, but trying not to show his feelings to the grownups.

The father channeled a middle aged businessman, highly annoyed and embarrassed by his son’s bad behavior. He snapped at his son, was tersely polite with the principal, and he looked at his watch every couple of minutes.

The principal was professional, but obviously most interested in solving his problem and getting on with running the school. The premise of the scene was to portray a student getting little real guidance from either adult

A stealthy technique:
Good dialogue is not easy to write. Some people seem to have a natural flare for this, and others have to work hard and rewrite a number of times. Both writers create successful novels, and entertain readers.

Eavesdropping is a good tool for improving dialogue. When you’re at a restaurant, listen to the conversations nearby. This works even better, if you can’t see the people who are talking. Picture their appearance, age, color of hair, level of education, and apply that method to your own characters. Is one person from a different part of the country? How does his speech pattern and lingo differ from locals?

Moving on.

None of us, writers and readers alike, graduate from the school of life. We experience either joy or vexation, both through books and in life. We learn continually, and writers record this fine journey. 

Remember:
Everything that’s going on in our seemingly mundane lives, will one day be considered history.

3 comments:

Jean Henry Mead said...

Excellent article, Jackie. I couldn't agree with you more about eavesdropping on conversations with people you cannot see.

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Jackie King said...

Thanks, Jean. I appreciate your comment and your friendship.