4 Keys to Engaging Dialogue pt. 1

Before I begin, I just want to say that this post ran long, so I divided it into two parts.  Part 2 will be available in a week’s time.

I’m sure everyone here’s familiar with Donald Trump and his over the top political campaign by now.  Whatever your thoughts are on the man or his politics, and whether you think he’s offensive or not, there’s one thing you have to admit.

The man is engaging.

He’s being spoken about all over the news media, he’s polarizing people on Twitter and Facebook.  The man definitely has everyone talking about him, whether they love him or hate him.  This is the same effect you want your characters dialogue to have upon your readers.

How do you do that?  You follow these tips:

1. Characterization

Do you remember in my two-part post 4 Necessary Pieces for Character Development when I spoke of a general sense of characterization?  How you have to figure out all the things about your characters that would make them a living breathing person?  Do you remember how I spoke about once you figure that out that information will guide you through your story?

This is definitely one of those places.

Once you have your characters fully fleshed out, it’s easy for you to determine not only what they would and not say, but how they would say it.

This is where accents and the characters origin come into play.

For example:

In my book No Rest for the Wicked, one of my main characters, Harlan Colter, is from Texas.  He’s a detective with the LAPD, so I walked a fine line between him speaking proper English with a slight Texan flavor in his dialogue, and his thoughts where I incorporate Texan slang into his inner narrative.

In one part of the story he comes upon information that’s simply too big and, to be honest, too off the wall to ignore as insignificant.  So instead of saying something like, “and there it was as clear as day,” I opted for, “and there it was, in his face, bigger than Dallas.”

“Bigger than Dallas,” is a Texan slang for a huge piece of information and something that can’t be discarded.  I had him use that because it makes him stand out as a character, but also gives him a unique voice.

When he speaks to other characters, I often have him drop the “g” in diphthongs, but only when he’s speaking with someone close to him, or he often calls another female character Carol, who he works closely with, “darlin'”, etc.

It really helps the character fly off the page at you.

2. Pace of Speech

This one is useful across characters.  A character may speak faster or slower due to his emotional state, energy level, level of pain etc.  If you’ve described the character speaking as exhausted, he might not be speaking in long sentences and definitely wouldn’t be speaking a mile a minute.

In this case, I’d use shorter sentences, maybe even one word if it suffices.

For example:

My main character Nico often times has trouble sleeping and many other reasons to be exhausted, and frankly, that would make him feel like he’s been hit by a truck.

In those situations I often give him three or four word sentences for a few reasons.  His sentences are often brief and deliberate as he’s not too much of a talker.  Because of this, I often have him condense the meanings of his thoughts as much as possible because it not only reflects who he is (referring to point 1) but also his emotional state and energy level.

So there you go, the first two keys to writing engaging dialogue.  Don’t forget to check out Part 2!

So what do you think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Think I’m crazy?  Whatever you do think, please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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Featured image: compliments to Gage Skidmore.  I added the text and it’s available under this CC License

One response to “4 Keys to Engaging Dialogue pt. 1

  1. Pingback: 4 Keys to Engaging Dialogue pt. 2 | Vincent Alcaras -- Author·

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