More about dialogue

After reposting my discussion about dialogue, I thought of a few more things to take into consideration when creating conversations between and among our characters.

  • Their age – older people will use different terms and expressions from younger people. The references they choose will be age appropriate as well. People in their 20’s and 30’s aren’t going to quote The Andy Griffith Show, for instance. They probably don’t even know who that is. Older folks may speak a little more formally, they may not curse or use slang as often. In Three Empty Frames, one of my characters is an elderly gentleman. He says things like “Heavens to Betsy” and “Why, I never!” which is perfectly acceptable for someone in his 80’s. However, if his daughter, in her late 20’s, spoke that way, it would sound ridiculous.
  • Regional expressions – I touched on this briefly in yesterday’s post. There are local expressions and terminologies that won’t travel to all parts of the country. I’ll give you a regional Philly example. “Jawn” is a term only used in this part of the country that refers to a person, place, event or thing. And while it pretty much defies definition, maybe it’ll make more sense if I use it in a sentence. “I really want the new iPhone but that jawn is too expensive.” “Went to see Roger Waters in concert last month. That jawn was awesome.” No one in Indiana or Florida or Utah is going to say “jawn”.
  • Cliches – I despise cliches. However, people do use them in their everyday speech. This is really up to the writer, but overusing cliches even in writing dialogue gets really boring. Keep them to a minimum.
  • Use of names – what I mean is having the speaker constantly say the name of the person to whom he is speaking. Like this:

“Joni, are you ok?”
“Yes, Graham, I’m fine.”
“Thank god, Joni. I was worried.”
“Graham, you are too sweet.”

We know who is talking to whom after the first two lines, the names don’t need to be constantly repeated. We don’t speak like that to each other in the real world, don’t do it in your fictional world, either.

  • Speech descriptors – while I don’t completely buy into Elmore Leonard’s rule of only using ‘said’ and ‘asked’ to describe speech, I do think it’s usually the best choice. I had read this rule after writing the first draft of my first Bucks County Novel. When I went back and read aloud all the ways I had described what people were saying, I cringed. Shouted, blustered, snapped, laughed, spat, hissed, giggled, sighed, moaned, grumbled, mumbled, murmured, whispered, muttered, shrieked… well, you get the idea. I changed 80% of that back to ‘said’ and ‘asked’. And to be accurate, people don’t ‘laugh’ or ‘sigh’ their words, they ‘say’ them with a sigh. Like this:

Wrong: “What am I going to do with you, Kerry?” she sighed.
Right: “What am I going to do with you, Kerry?” she asked, sighing. (or with a sigh.)

Our fictional conversations have to be natural. It will impact the believability and relate-ability of our characters. Readers need to be invested in those characters to want to keep reading their stories. And we want those stories to be read!

Happy writing and productive editing!

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Meg

Here we are on the last day of November. For those tired souls who participated in National Novel Writing Month – congratulations! It’s over! I did not participate this year, but instead set the goal of revising my completed manuscript for publication. I am not sure what happened to my time this month, but I’m sorry to say that I barely even made a dent in the job. Besides the introductory section I posted recently, I have accomplished absolutely nothing!

Nevertheless, I am still going to attempt to finish so as to publish before the year is out. If it seems a little quiet around here, you’ll know why. I’ll be in the subterranean lair, feverishly editing away…

Naming Names

How do you choose a name for a character?  Some of my characters’ names came from deceased relatives, old family friends, and a particularly useful website:  behindthename.com.  Since names fall in and out of popularity throughout the years, one way to name your character realistically is to see what names were popular for the year in which they were born. That’s what this website can tell you –the most common names given to the children of that age.

For choosing surnames, I carefully watched film and TV show credits, paid attention to the last names of athletes, people in the news and even place names. Detective Jack Staley, for example, arose from – Jack: a consistently strong male name (think Jack Kennedy, Jack Ryan, Jack Reacher, Jack Bauer) and Staley which I borrowed from former Philadelphia Eagles’ running back Duce Staley. (Also giving it a Philly connection). Maya Kaminsky is a combination of – Maya: Russian engineer from Kim Stanley Robinson’s book, “Red Mars” and Kaminsky: the last name of one of my childhood friends.

How do you feel about graveyards? They are another excellent source of names. Go have a wander in the local cemetery – the older, the better. Finally, to make sure you aren’t using the name of someone already ‘famous,’ google the name you’ve chosen to see what comes up. Although, the name might not belong to a celebrity, it could be the name of a business leader or politician that is well known in their field. You may want to think twice about using it, especially if it is the name of your villain!

Another caution: don’t have too many names that look or sound similarly. For instance, naming Maya’s sister Mary, or having a Jack and a Jake in the same story. They will easily be confused and that is frustrating for the reader.

May your characters be unique, their names be memorable and your book a best seller!