1. MrWisp
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    MrWisp Member

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    Dialogue advice?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by MrWisp, Mar 16, 2013.

    As I was writing some dialogue this morning, I ran into a peculiar little problem. I'm trying to write dialogue spoken by a teenage character (an eighteen-year-old girl), and I'm trying to make it as believable as possible. The line should be, "He's not capable of the evil of which he's been accused."

    Instead, I wrote, "He's not capable of the evil that he's been accused of."

    The first version is written more properly, but sounds stiff. The second, I feel, uses syntax more likely of a teenager. As a reader, if I used the second version, would you think, "Okay, that's how the character speaks" or would you think, "Jeez, this author can't write grammatically-correct sentences"? (Keeping in mind that I'm aware that the whole "don't end with a preposition" rule has been relaxed in recent years.)

    Of course, this is just one instance, but as I near the end of my book and look forward to the revision process, I can see myself tackling the issue a few times in the near future.
     
  2. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    Well, you can have sentences that aren't grammatically correct in dialogue, depending how you want the character to come across.

    I would think...well, that's how the character speaks and as a teenager myself, it sounds more realistic. Besides, dialogue should mimic real speech (but not exactly copy)

    Just like how you wouldn't omit words in the actual narrative (unless it's first person) eg. 'Feeling kind of sad' but you might do that for dialogue because that's how the character speaks.

    But don't make the dialogue so grammatically messed up that they can't be understood at all. The example you gave was fine.

    Hope this helped.
     
  3. MrWisp
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    MrWisp Member

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    That was useful. I appreciate it. I think the nature of my day job sometimes makes it difficult to shut of the formality when it comes to my own writing. :)
     
  4. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    It also depends where the teenager comes from, her background, her education

    An afro-american girl from the Bronx might say "Yo - There Aint no way he do shit like that - he aint got it in 'im for starters!"

    Your white suburban girl from The Hampshires with one eye on Harvard might say something just tad a differently

    Just because the dialogue might sound improper doesn't matter - it's the way your character speaks - look at Huck Finn...
     
  5. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't use either "of which" or "that".
     
  6. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Writing is all about communication. Once you know the rules (--and it seems that you certainly do--) break whichever ones you feel are necessary to get your point across. The only rule is that you communicate effectively. Something that is too grammatically proper can be just as difficult to read as something that looks like alphabet soup. Know your audience, learn how they will respond, and write accordingly.

    In this case, you're trying to communicate character, so write it whichever way you feel suits the character's personality. Very few of my characters have the same speech patterns. Some are very proper, some let expletives fly every which way, and some almost require a translator to make out what they're saying. If every character sounds exactly like the narrator or sounds like their words were run through a grammar checker, you might have a problem.

    Bringing the question here is a good first step. The best way to learn how people will respond to your writing is to put it in front of them and ask, "what do you think of this?" Personally, I think the latter still sounds a little stiff, but I don't know enough about the story or character to make a judgment call on how she should speak.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    both sound too stiff to me, to be coming from a teen... but, as was wisely noted above by erebh, how you word this depends on how your character would express that thought, based on her background, not on rules of grammar...
     
  8. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Both examples feel too adult for a teen, in my opinion.

    "He isn't capable of that kind of evil."

    Just my two cents.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In answer to your general question, it's quite normal and acceptable to break the rules of grammar in dialogue.

    In answer to the question about these specific lines, I think that they're both too formal - I don't think that the average teenager would use "evil" as a noun. I imagine something more like:

    "No. He's not evil - he couldn't do those things even if he wanted to."
    "He didn't do it. He couldn't do it. He's just not like that."
    "I keep trying to tell them, he's not... capable of that. He's not evil, you know?"
    "No. That's not him. It's just not him."

    That's assuming a bland Middle American vocabulary and background. It would of course vary depending on what her real background is.
     
  10. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Of course much of it depends on how this person thinks and acts, but generally teens are bottled up and tense, so they blurt. "He's not capable of that kind of evil." or, "He don't have that kinda of evil in him." or better still, "He's not capable of evil like that."
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Eighteen is practically an adult. Her vocabulary may be fully mature. But as erebh pointed out, her culture and personality will shape her speech.

    Don't obsess over grammar. Even if your character is a professional news anchor, her grammar is likely to be flawed. Instead, focus on her beliefs, her environment, all th things that shape her speech. Is evil even something she believes in? Is capable really a word she would choose (I don't doubt she knows it, but would she choose it). Are these the words she would use speaking to THIS PERSON?

    Dialogue is, above all, a way of showing a character and relationships, not simply to provide the reader with the literal content.
     
  12. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Yes, I agree. Eighteen is practically an adult. But Wisp made it seem like he didn't want his character to come off as a full fledged adult, with an adult way of saying things. Which Is why I said both of his examples sound awkward to me (and would regardless of the characters age).

    Mamma said it perfect, they sound "stiff." Unless the character is intentionally being portrayed that way, but we know that isn't the case.
     
  13. JayClassical
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    JayClassical Member

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    Don't let teenage stereotypes write your character. If it sounds too adult maybe your teenager is more mature then normal. Thats interesting.
     
  14. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    I agree, your character has no voice, no character. As Cog pointed out, dialogue is not only about relaying information, it's about molding a character. Your examples sound more like a textbook or a robot.

    I think I'll write a scene!

    Anywho, yeah, make sure she has a voice. ;)

    ~ J. J.
     
  15. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    How can you judge if the character has 'character' through one line of dialogue...

    When you try to hard to let it sound like a teenager, it just ends up being bad. I say take her age in account but don't concentrate on it so much you find yourself over thinking it. Every teenager speaks differently, depending on their background, upbringing and environment, personality...ect.

    Take those factors into consideration and you should be alright.
     
  16. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Because unless the 18-year-old is a child prodigy, or the story is set in the 1600's, they're not going to say, 'He's not capable of the evil of which he's been accused.' It's just not going to happen. They would just say, 'He would never do all that stuff they said.' Teenagers, unless overly mature and overly educated, would not be so verbose and technical.

    Again, we don't know the context or what this teenager is like so we are only speaking in generalities.
     
  17. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    Now looking at that sentence again, it's worded weirdly and really wordy for no reason lol

    but a teenager could speak like that. We never know. And I am a teenager. It's kind of like the whole thing of trying to write a male character when you're a female...don't think about it too much. Consider it, be mindful of it...but it's best you don't try so hard about conforming to how a teenager would stereotypically speak.
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    agreed... but you must consider the character/persona of each person in your story and have their dialog be appropriate to each one... there may be a teen who likes to speak in such a formal, archaic fashion, but s/he would be an oddity among his/her peers... could be an effective character, if that's the case...

    but if you want this character to be more 'mainstream' and not an anomaly, then you'd have to keep his/her dialog closer to how the other kids that age in that area/social-economic level would sound...
     

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