Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dialog 101

Often, I’m asked how I write dialog… I am very lucky I suppose, it comes pretty naturally. I more or less become the character and hear a slightly different voice in my head as my he or she speaks. There are some simple tricks as well. It’s fairly easy to tell your reader a lot about a character by just altering the dialog. Take the following example:

I knocked on the door again, persistently, hell bent on getting a reply. Finally, I heard a voice from inside.

“Awright, Awright, I’m comin’…”
“Yes, yes, shan’t be a moment…”
“Hang on a sec. I’m coming.”
“Hold your horses, I’m a comin’…”
“Yes, yes, patience, patience…”
“A moment, please…”

In the above, all these six potential characters have the same response. The reader can probably guess they are either already expecting a visitor, or they are all shopkeepers. And we learn something about each of them just by how they phrase their reply. Exactly what we learn is subtle… maybe we can gather a clue about where they are from, and even perhaps, their general attitude.

Compare these alternate replies:
“Who is it now?”
“Go away or I’ll call the police.”

This has a less to do with the character’s dialog style— though we might suspect that one of them is paranoid— and more to do with moving the plot forward. These two characters are not expecting a knock at their door.

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