1. Unripe Plum

    Unripe Plum Member

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    Dialogue styles

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Unripe Plum, Nov 27, 2016.

    Hi all,
    I'm a quarter of the way through a first draft of my first novel, and I'm finding that most of the characters sound exactly like me. This is fine for my MC, me, but less for the others.
    How do you avoid this trap without it sounding forced or fake? How do you get each character to sound sufficiently unique that they are recognizable from their style of speech?
     
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  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I think the "recognize each character from their style of speech" goal is highly over-rated... If your characters are from different backgrounds it might be possible, but if you were to record the speech patterns of, say, five friends who all grew up in similar circumstances and spend a lot of time together and have similar education, etc... they're going to have very, very similar speech patterns. Friends even tend to pick up their friends' quirky expressions - I have one friend who says "son of a whore" instead of "son of a bitch" and now, of course, I say it too!

    So if your characters are from similar backgrounds I wouldn't bother working too hard to make them sound distinctive.

    If they're from different backgrounds and really would be likely to speak differently, maybe you could try speaking their dialogue out loud as you write it, or picture an actor who's known for playing that "type" of character saying the lines, or otherwise help yourself really focus on the the words and what it would be like to hear them?
     
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  3. Unripe Plum

    Unripe Plum Member

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    Thanks for the thoughtful suggestions. I like your idea of picturing actors particularly.

    The plot runs around 5-6 college students, but its a very ethnically diverse group, so there should be distinct speech patterns, even if expressions are common. Which brings me to accents. Some older authors actually write words phonetically to show accents,but that becomes cumbersome to read. Of course there are grammatical distinctions that I can be more mindful of. But is there another way? Also, as most of them are bi or multilingual, how many non-English words is too many?
     
  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I would recommend starting by having characters' speech reflect their manner and attitude, even if they tend to use your own vocabulary, etc. Just as an exercise, you could start with an irreverent flighty high school kid and a cranky middle-aged English teacher, having a friendly discussion. (I say friendly discussion because angry dialogue tends to be a bit more superficial in demonstrating character. IMO.) And then you could progress to people who aren't quite so wildly different.
     
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  5. EnginEsq

    EnginEsq Member

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    I suggest just write what your characters say for now, and when when you revise your first draft, worry about exactly how they say it (among many other things, like whether they actually know enough at that point to say it).
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2016
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  6. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned

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    The goal is to make the story believable, and plausible. People offer suggestions as to how this is done, but doing one particular one, without regard to the whole package, won't get anyone there. As for dialogue, many things can be said (love the pun there.) It's not that you can recognize characters by their differing speech, it's that speech should read as natural, or you'll send up red flags in your readers. It's a thing they notice. "People just don't talk like that."

    We've recently discussed this elsewhere on this forum. It ties in with why younger writers have difficulties their elders do not. Frankly, I've heard a lot of people from many and varied walks of life, age groups, cultural backgrounds, races, professions...speak. I've spent many years learning how others talk. The problem becomes do you write speech for your bus driver the way a bus driver speaks, or the way you'd speak if the bus driver were you? If all the your characters talk like you would if you were them, guess what.

    One is natural, the other contrived. Regardless of what some would be writers tell you about freedom, your readers won't put up with contrivances for very long. So, the remedy would seem to be get out and learn how other people speak. Take what you learn and fold it into your work. There's no replacement for experience. I know a lot of people are impressed with their own imaginations. However, you're not trying to impress yourself. It's your potential reader's opinion that count$ in the end.
     
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  7. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The best way to make your characters 'sound' different from each other on the written page is to concentrate on personalities. It's not so much what their accents are like, it's what they say and their attitude that makes the difference. In order to pull this off, you MUST have a strong perception of what your characters are like, and that means you need to immerse yourself in their story.

    How wordy are your characters? Do they say things in a roundabout way, or do they get straight to the point? Do they hesitate before expressing an opinion? Are they always serious-minded? Do they tend to tease? Are they sarcastic? Polite? Rude? Nervous? Arrogant? Selfish?

    Of course this will change within an individual as well, depending on who they're speaking to and the circumstances they're in. Think about the difference in the way you speak when you're at a job interview, versus how you talk to your friends, or your mom. Just get a strong grip on your characters and situations, and chances are your dialogue will flow more easily and believably.

    Don't be too concerned about hopping from plot point to plot point. Get to know your characters, to the extent that you can see and hear them 'acting' out your story in your head.
     
  8. Unripe Plum

    Unripe Plum Member

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    Thanks for all the inputs. Although I do have pretty detailed backstories for all my characters, the finer points of their personalities are revealing themselves more as I write. One of the supporting characters, for example, is always trying to defuse tensions, while another tends to be rather brusque. All this is emerging, within my own speaking style. So what I'm planning to do is to go ahead and finish the full first draft, by which time I will really get to know them all well. And then I want to try doing a full pass of the book once for each character, fine tuning their lines. I hope this will give me an opportunity to really slip into their skins and channel them.
     
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  9. Sal Boxford

    Sal Boxford Senior Member

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    I agree with this completely. I, um, often write dialogue by sort of... acting the spoken bits out. You're *this* person, you're feeling *this* way and you want to convey *this* information to *this* person, and the reaction you expect/desire is *this*.
     
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