Thursday, 16 January 2014

Dialogue: The Imperfection Balance

Speech is imperfect. In average conversation, you’re likely to make a mistake every 2000 words or so. Your tongue may get twisted. You might lose what you were saying or throw in the wrong tense. You might blend words together in the way that would make your grandma spit out her coffee. As a writer, it’s good to be aware of these imperfections in order to avoid wooden dialogue. Here’s a few to sink your teeth into:

False starts and hesitations – Often show by the use of a hyphen if the word is stuttered or if the sentence is dropped instantly.

Trailing off – More words may be muttered than are audible or the sentence may end slowly. Ellipsis are used to show part of the sentence has been omitted in these instances.

Back tracking and repetition – We’ve all heard someone say the same thing twice without knowing or realised we’ve repeated ourselves. Or you think you're about to make a new point but it's really just the same one in disguise.

Fillers – the ‘ums’ and ‘erms’ and even the ‘you know’s which mean almost nothing but we throw them in because our brains need a little moment to catch up.

Hedges - Used to soften the blow of powerful information. Blurting out information such as ‘My sister is dead’ may seem a little strong whereas ‘My sister has passed away’ will often make you seem like less of a robot.

It’s good to mirror the error in speech in your dialogue. However, to feel realistic, you don’t have to be realistic. In much the same way that you don’t need to mention toilet breaks if they’re irrelevant to your story, you don’t need to add in every instance of hesitation, false starts, or reiteration.

Instead, you can use these techniques that mirror the fallibilities of everyday speech in order to show a little something or two about the moment. Perhaps the character with a jolty disposition also isn’t smooth with his words. Or, depending who you are, speech tends to fall apart if you’re angry, nervous, or shocked speechless. As always, there’s definitely a balance to remember when tripping up your character’s words.

I'll start working on critiques for all of you who have posted about your characters!