The Everything Guide to Writing a Novel part 2

So I have recently finished Chapter 7 in the Everything Guide which is titled "Getting Characters to Talk" and focuses on the writing of dialogue. Before I go in too deep about what this chapter says, I'd like to say that I personally find dialogue the easiest to write. I listen to a lot of people's conversations in the real world, and I believe it has helped me to write dialogue well/believably. That being said, I also find that I tend to rely on dialogue a lot as I'm writing Gayle (probably because it does come so easily to me), and I struggle to fill the gaps with descriptions and action. I think what has surprised me the most about undertaking writing a novel is how much description and action is needed to make it read and flow well and to not lose the readers. Because I read very well-written books, I don't think I've noticed the extent of those large chunks in between dialogue as a reader. So, here are the major points from Chapter 7 that may come in handy for you.

The Everything Guide talks about important things to keep in mind when writing dialogue such as use dialogue that reads as realistic but isn't "real" because most conversations in the "real world" are short and mundane. Readers don't want those "real" conversations in a work of fiction. On the opposite end of the spectrum, readers also don't want the characters' dialogue to be too formal, stilted, or trying too hard to be intelligent (unless of course that character is a well respected doctor, lawyer, scientist, professor, etc.). Dialogue should fit the character; readers shouldn't question whether a character in that particular situation would speak that way or say those things. When considering realistic/"real" dialogue, don't use too much slang either. While lots of people use slang in the real world, too much slang in your dialogue may actually date your writing and make it less accessible to multiple age groups and multiple generations. Some limited use of slang that has made its way into the dictionary is acceptable, but only when you would miss it if you left it out. Also avoid clichés whenever possible. People in the real world do use clichés from time to time like slang, but also like slang, readers do not want to read it too much in fiction and it can date a novel.

Dialogue can also be a good way to inform readers of characters' traits or further the story. Especially when writing in first person or third person limited, secondary characters can tell the reader things about the main character that the main character can't reveal about himself/herself. If a main character talks about his/her appearance or features too often, it can come off as vain or self-centered (which is not necessarily what you want your readers to think about your protagonist). Using the secondary characters to talk about another character's appearance however is perfectly acceptable, and readers will not give it a second thought.

Once you've decided what point of view you're going to tell your story in, there are two other main questions you must answer before writing your characters' dialogue. The first question is do you want your character (or your narrator if writing in third person) to have a gendered voice. Most men and women speak slightly differently and have different points of view or motivations even in the exact same situations. If you are a woman writing a female character or a man writing a male character, it may be easier (or even subconscious) to write that character in a gendered way. However, you have to ask yourself whether that may or may not alienate any readers from fully connecting with that character. Personally, I find that I like characters of both genders equally even when their dialogue is gendered, but some boys/men may have a hard time relating to a female character if she speaks and her motivations are overtly female and vice versa. When I consider Gayle, I think that what I have written so far for her dialogue is relatively genderless. She is not an overly "feminine" girl, so I don't think I will alienate any male readers at this point. However, the feminist in me is a bit piqued that an author should adjust whether a character speaks in a gendered voice or not. I write my characters how I hear them, in a way that is true to their disposition and persona, and if it is overtly gendered, then that is who they are. I wouldn't consider changing it.

The second question is whether you want your character(s) to have a dialect. The Everything Guide suggests (as well as Strunk and White) that you only use a dialect if you are a devoted student of the tongue you hope to reproduce. If you grew up in an area that has a very distinct dialect, you know exactly how it is supposed to sound, and you want a character(s) to come from that place and sound that way, then you can attempt to incorporate it. However in my opinion, it is a very thin line you must walk to make this work. Dialects that your readers aren't going to have the first-hand knowledge of like you do can easily get annoyed with reading a dialect and possibly put down a book for good. The Everything Guide also suggests that if you choose to give a character a dialect or accent to add richness to his/her characterization, then you only have to introduce it a few times and then phase back into regular writing as the reader then gets the drift. I am not using any dialects or accents in Gayle. The setting is a fantasy one so I don't feel it's necessary that my characters speak differently, and even if it is loosely based on a European setting around the late Middle Ages/Renaissance era, I wouldn't have the first idea what a person would have sounded like in any particular area of Europe at that time.

One last important note from chapter 7, try not to use dialogue tags too often. You should use them often enough that the reader doesn't get confused about who is doing the talking. Don't use the same spacing of dialogue tags too often on the same page. Also, do not use more "flowery" tags than said too often either. I am guilty at times of trying to use more "flowery" tags simply because I don't like my writing to be too repetitive. However in this instance, the repetition of "said" as your most used dialogue tag helps you as a writer to stick to the most important mantra ... show don't tell.


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