Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Listening to Dialogue


This week I'm super excited (and not to mention busy), because my church is doing VBS (Vacation Bible School). We've been in the Big Apple, and having a great time, with the occasional spill, and screaming child. During these last two weeks -last week was prep week- all of us leaders, and helpers have been living and breathing VBS. In fact, I'm listening to a song that I've got to learn for Worship tomorrow as I'm writing this. During this week, so far, I've listened to a lot of conversations. Some forced ones between parents, some hardly intelligible ones between kids, some frantic ones with leaders, some that weren't even in English, and some I've participated in myself (I don't spend ALL my time eavesdropping). All that being said, I've been inspired to write this week's post on listening to people.

No, I'm not talking about HOW one should listen, but why writers should listen extra hard. I'm talking about dialogue (no pun intended). Personally, unrealistic dialogue is one of the key elements that will turn me away from a story. If I can't hear the character talking as I read the story, then I probably won't believe in your character. Nobody likes flat characters. So, it's important to listen to the way people phrase their words, and how they talk to add the realism that one needs in their story.

Things to listen for:
-Amount/placement of words. Eg.
We might write: "Could you please get me the milk from the refrigerator?"
Whereas it's more likely for someone to say: "Get me the milk please. It's in the fridge."

-Contractions. Eg.
We might write: "They did not come."
Whereas it's more likely for someone to say: "They didn't come."
People only separate contractions for emphasis. See the difference:
"Johnny, you aren't allowed to do that!"
"Johnny, you are not allowed to do that!"

-Slang. Eg.
We might write: "Give me a tissue."
Whereas it's more likely for someone to say: "Give me a Kleenex."

-Pace. Eg.
We might write: "Well, I guess I'll come," Fred said.
Whereas it's more likely for someone to say: "Well," Fred said, "I guess I'll come."
It's more natural for a pause after 'Well', and even though I didn't outright say that there was a pause, it was implied by interrupting the sentence with 'Fred said'.


There are many other things to listen for, but those are the main ones I came up with. Feel free to comment with other ideas. Basically, it's important to listen to how certain types of people talk and apply it to similar characters. For example, you wouldn't write a high society lady's dialogue based off of what you've heard from your teen friends, or a kid's dialogue based off something you heard from your teacher. However, you would listen to a child's talking, as I am doing this week, and apply it to a child character in your story. I think you get the picture. So, this week listen to the way people are talking, and apply it to your dialogue.

Have an excellent rest of the week! I'm off to the Big Apple once again!

P.S. I came back to add this a little bit after it was published, because I forgot earlier, haha. Don't worry about proper grammar for dialogue. Obviously, use the proper commas, periods, quotation marks etc., but don't worry about fragment sentences, or not 'proper' arrangement of words. People often don't speak with proper grammar, and that's okay to show in dialogue.

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