Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Today's post brought to you by our very own Ryan Hill--author of zombies, snarky demons, and awesomeness. Take it away, Ryan!
Most things you’ve read about dialogue are true. Yes, you need to know your character, their personality, likes, dislikes, fears, goals, etc. to know their voice. All of that stuff is important. Knowing all of that stuff is one thing. Executing it is another.
One of the easiest things you can do to write decent dialogue is pay attention to what other people say. Not just people in real life, but in stories as well. How many action movies reach the climax with someone saying, “Let’s finish this”? Too damn many. Clichés aren’t just for plot points.
Know your clichés.
Every time, and I mean every time, a character speaks, ask yourself if you’ve heard this before. Taking a stroll down memory lane, let’s take another look at the dialogue mentioned earlier:
“Let’s finish this.”
Why say it like that? It’s so boring. Instead, why not have a character say, “I’ve been run over, shot at, had non-consensual sex with a seventy-three-year-old woman, worn the same bloody sock for five days, and accidentally ran over my cat. All because of this one pimp looking mo-fo. I’ve had it, I miss my cat, it’s time to slap the dreads off his head.”
Sure, that was a ridiculous example, but it still stands. Know the clichés so you can avoid them.
Another simple, easy way to write better dialogue: don’t narrate through your characters.
This is an easy trap to fall into, and took me a while to notice it. Again, to go with an elementary example:
“Give me the gun,” I said. Tom had no idea how angry he’d made me.
Tom handed me the gun.
You just spent two lines doing the same thing, getting a gun. You don’t need to have a character say that, then describe the action. Instead, try this.
“You’re a great guy, Tom,” I said. “Really.” I grabbed the gun off the table then shot him in the head.
You know, something like that.
Another easy way to improve your character’s dialogue is to give them a hook. Maybe they love the Chicago Cubs. Maybe they have daddy issues. Or, in this example from an upcoming book, the character loves ninjas. What this allows you to do is give what would be normal dialogue and give it an added edge.
In the scene, Tim sees a character visibly shaken by something. He doesn’t know what. Instead of just asking if the character is fine, he gets to add a ninja twist to it.
“Are you okay?” Tim asked. “You look like you stumbled upon a horde of ninja assassins.”
All this does is give you an additional shade with which to paint your canvas and make each character have a distinct voice. The better you know your character, the more they will talk to you. That not only helps with dialogue, but eventually they’ll tell you where to take the story. It’s a beautiful thing.
The best thing to do, though, with anything else that concerns writing, is write. Be sure to know what your peers (and yes, J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins are peers of other writers, albeit sickeningly successful peers) are doing.
Know your clichés so you can avoid them.
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