Friday, March 25, 2011

Dialogue Mechanics - part three

hey FFFers, I'm back. If anyone out there has an active senior in high school, you know how busy I am with all the end of the year things as well as college applications. Whew!

Okay, we've been talking about dialogue mechanics and have gone over the basics. Before I go on, I wanted to mention something we call an "RUE." That's, "resist the urge to explain." We often do this without thinking. Here's an example:

Sam clenched his fists. He was really angry. "I can't stand him!"

Do you see what I did? I told you "he was really angry" when the clenching of the fists and the dialogue showed it. We do this because we want to make sure the readers knows what's going on, but really, the reader will get it if you show it.

Now, let's talk about making your characters sound natural without writing the way we talk.

Val hugged Sue. "I'm so glad you see you! What have you been up to?"

Sue shrugged. "Well, you know, um, I've been busy with, like, um, working and trying to spend time with, um, Jim."

"I hear ya," Val said. "There's just not enough, you know, time."


When we talk, we hesitate a lot. We use partial sentences and slang words. How we handle dialogue depends on who is talking, their age and gender. But we can't write exactly how we talk. It's fine for talking, but for writing and reading, it can get bogged down.

How is dialogue different for fantasy? Take a look at your WIP (work in progress) and see how many different types of characters you have; elves, dwarves, fairies, etc. Do they all sound different? They should, but not so much that the reader is exhausted by the time a conversation is done.

Some authors write heavy dialects - have you read any of the Redwall series? That's an example of being extreme. Some readers love that. Most don't.

I find the best way is to use certain expressions or a turn of a phrase unique to that character or people. Here's an example from my novel, Fairyeater. This is a conversation between the main character, Akeela, and some new friends, Acadians (forest people.)

Akeela startled and looked up to see two Acadians approaching. A boy and a girl.
“Sapo!” the boy said again.
Hawk closed his eyes and groaned. “Go away.”
The Acadian boy plopped down next to Akeela. “So, this is she, yeh?” He grinned at Akeela and wiggled his eyebrows. Akeela couldn’t help but laugh.
“Aye, it’s she. Now, go away. You’re scraping my branches.”
The boy shouted with laughter. The girl pushed him off the log and sat down. “Pay no mind to my brother. He’s a dupeseed.” She lifted her long, bushy hair off her shoulders and dropped it again. “I’m Ves-rynia, Hawk’s cousin. That--” she jerked her thumb over her shoulder. “—is Vorrak-ira.”
Akeela didn’t exactly understand the Acadian expressions, but she had a good idea what they meant. “I’m Akeela.”

See how I did that? Now, it's your turn. Let's see how you're handling the dialect of different groups of people. If you need help, let us know and we'll brainstorm together.


  1. I think RUE is my best friend :3 It's a really great reminder to have tacked on my wall, especially when I'm trying to edit.

    My dialogues keep going from one extreme to the other. For example, when I write my unicorns, I try to make them sound wise and unicorn-ish without going over the top (which I often do anyway :( ). I tried to have my unicorns speak without using contractions, but it made my dialogue sound stiff, especially when they were talking to my heroine, who's a teenager from Earth. Now I'm brainstorming so I can learn as much as possible about their customs and expressions and then weave that into their dialogue. I hope it works!

  2. Oh man, I never even thought about making the different creatures have different slang. I gave them accents, but they just didn't do the job right.


  3. I never thought about that either, Fozzy. I haven't gotten very far in the planning process of my novel, but it will be filled with many different kinds of creatures. I know I've had characters in contemporary short stories that I gave quirky traits that turned out to be annoying. How would you do different dialects with several different characters and not bog down the story? For example, my two main characters are trolls, but they will meet up on their journey with a fairy and an animal guide, as well as a shadow creature. It could get quite confusing if every one of them had some kind of dialect or something of that nature.