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How Do You Talk?

by Bonnie S. Calhoun

In my novel Cooking the Books, I have several unique characters with a particular speech pattern for each person.

Listen to the kids, and how they talk, listen to your teens with the text speech…IDK. Dialogue is nothing more than having a conversation. How hard can that be?

“Yo G, it is, what it is!” Well it depends on which character you’re talking to. “I beg your pardon. Do you happen to be addressing me?” Let’s discuss common mistakes we make writing dialogue, and learn how to avoid them. “Neener, neener, I don’t mess up!” And at the same time we’ll learn how to use dialogue to build our characters. “Cool, that sounds like a plan, dude.” LOL…and expand their traits. “Well bless your li’l heart.” How many people do you hear talking here? Come meet them!

One of the easiest ways to write effective dialogue is to listen to people talk. Let’s look at a few mistakes that are the easiest ones to slip by as we’re writing. With a little practice we can decrease the frequency of these mistakes.

1.) Biggest Cuprit: Name Repetition…ad nauseum!

“Well excuse me Fred, I didn’t know you were coming home this early.”
“But Barbara, I always come home at this time on Wednesday.”

In a normal conversation unless you’re a mother scolding a teenager by using their proper given name, you wouldn’t keep referring to the person by name. Dialogue needs to reflect the same way we talk.

Have a conversation with someone and tape it so that you can write it down just the way it comes out. Even using “he said, or she said” is not necessary. You could use an action beat like a facial expression to tighten the tension in the passage and let it be know who was speaking.

“You don’t have to yell at me.” Barbara rolled her eyes.

2.) Adjectives, Adverbs, and Dialogue Tags, Oh My!

“Don’t forget to bring the hotdogs!” Bob exclaimed as David walked away.
“I told you I remembered them.” David reiterated as he swiftly approached his car.

This can be solved by using action sentences instead of adjectives or adverbs to show how the character speaks.

“Don’t forget to bring the hotdogs!” Bob watched David walk away.
“I told you I remembered them.” David approached his car.

And when you use a mode of punctuation, don’t reiterate it in the action beat. You don’t need ‘Bob exclaimed’ when you used an exclamation point. Or ‘David questioned’ when you used a question mark.

3.) Perfect Grammar.

“I do not understand why you have that knife in your hand,” Roy said. “Is murder your intent?”

Perfect…but no one talks like that.

“Hey, man put that knife away!” Roy screamed. “You trying to kill me?”

4.) Yawn Moments

Conversation about absolutely nothing that furthers the plot.

“Barbara, this is Susan.”
Susan extended her hand. “Hi Barbara.”

If it doesn’t move the plot along…leave it at home!


Bonnie Calhoun is owner of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, publisher the Christian Fiction Online Magazine, Northeast Zone Director for ACFW, President of Christian Authors Network, Appointment Coordinator for the Colorado Christian Writers Conference and the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference, and ACFW ‘Mentor of the Year,’ for 2011.

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2 Responses to How Do You Talk?

  1. Iola says:

    Yes, the dialogue in Cooking the Books was good, but what made it stand out for me was the one-liners, like describing a character as coming from the shallow end of the gene pool. That was brilliant.

  2. Good advice, Bonnie. Love your examples:)