On Writing Convincing Dialogue Part 02: Context Is Key

Hey guys! I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been doing some actual writing lately. I know, right!? ^^

Part one here!

And before I continue with this… I know I keep saying I don’t like to give advice and then I go and do it anyway. And yeah, that’s a contradiction; and hypocritical, but the thing is I read a lot of advice out there and think ‘that’s valid, but it doesn’t work for me’ and it makes me want to talk about the things that do work for me when writing. It turns into writing advice and it seems there’s no way to go around it. Hmph.

A while ago I guest posted on C.S Wilde’s blog about character creation. I didn’t go into all the lengths I wanted because rambling nearly endlessly about the topics of my posts is a habit I reserve for this blog alone, and I might go into that subject with a bit more depth at some point in the future. Until then… What I wrote on that post about getting to know your characters and separating them from yourself is a very important part of this, so you might want to check it for some extra tips.

 

Know The Characters Well

Personality affects everything in a conversation. A character’s disposition towards a particular character, or character type, strangers in general, or maybe they just have a headache that day (>.>), all of those little things affect a conversation. How good of a grasp a character has on his or her emotions is also extremely important to how they behave in a conversation; especially with someone they don’t like. Crys attempting a civilized conversation with someone she dislikes is an entirely different situation from Jake attempting a civilized conversation with someone he dislikes.

As Luckas would tell you, Jake is terrible at controlling his temper once you push his buttons a few times. Whereas Crys has a much, much, higher restraint than Jake. It’s not that she hides her feelings for certain people, but she’s gotten very good at not acting on them. It takes a lot of effort to make her lose her shit with someone the way Jake does with Luckas on a regular basis.

Vocabulary Is Very Important

Casual readers of this blog might have clicked the red button of doom on the sidebar there, gone to a random post and been led to wonder who the hell the Twins are. I know there are several posts where I used the expression “Twins sake”, or some variation of it, and while a few of those were intentional, I’m pretty damn sure a lot of them weren’t. I do it all the time. And that’s because when we created the Twins (well, Doom did for the most part; credit where it’s due), I had to start training myself to not just use ‘God’ in my characters’ dialogue anymore. First I started using ‘Gods’; plural, and then I started using ‘Twins’. It became such a constant expression to me that I tend to use it often out of character.

I know all of this seems like a tiny detail, but if you pay close attention to real life dialogue you can’t deny that expressions like these are a constant part of our lives. We don’t know where some of them originated or what the hell they’re even supposed to mean, but we blurt them out constantly. And when you’re writing fiction, fantasy (and I assume sci-fi) especially, it’s important to think of which of these expressions you have to cut out of your vocabulary and what you can replace them with.

Ask yourselves what sorts of things your characters would have been hearing so often throughout their lives that they would just repeat them out of pure habit. It’s a tiny detail that adds A LOT of depth. And you can have fun with it too. 😛

To Curse or Not To Curse…

The issue with curse words is not whether you should use them and risk offending your readers’ sensitivities, but whether you can use them seamlessly in a dialogue. If you can, they won’t stand out so much to readers and feel disruptive. If you can’t, then it’s best to just leave them out entirely.

And by seamlessly I mean would it feel natural to have this particular character curse.

Now, I personally curse a lot while writing. Like informal writing, such as this blog. BUT, since I get into my characters’ heads when writing them, I don’t tend to overthink the use of curse words. I just run with it and if they curse; they curse. And it seems to work for me. I never looked back on a dialogue and thought ‘whoa, this guy would never curse like that!’. If a character of mine is not the type to curse, it just doesn’t happen. Or it happens under circumstances that would lead them to it; such as being on the last shred of their patience or being in extreme pain. And in those circumstances it’s okay for it to stand out because it furthers the point that the character is under stress or agony.

But different writers have different methods and a lot of people are a lot more objective than me… So… If you’re looking at it and you’re not sure, my opinion is: don’t do it. Curse words add nothing to dialogue, really. If it bothers you or makes you worried about bothering others, just avoid them. Or *points at the above entry* replace them with other expressions that bother you less and have a similar effect within your story’s Universe.

Don’t worry about being offensive as much as about what fits. What fits your character and what fits your story’s universe.

Unless you’re writing for children… Then keep cursing out of that shit. 😛

B.B

 

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