Keep It Real
By Cait Collins
When we are talking to one another, do we speak the King’s English? “Of course, we don’t. We tend to do just the opposite. We speak with crazy idioms, slang, and sentence fragments. Many younger people have more limited vocabularies because their main communication method is via Facebook or texting. Therefore, as writers we make conversations more real by employing the changes in style. I’m not suggesting we write like we text. “R u riding with me,” may be more convenient, but it’s not the way we write dialogue and it’s definitely not acceptable in a memorandum or a report.
Imagine saying, this. “I sauntered to the convenience store this morning to purchase a quart of Borden’s eggnog and a pound of unshelled peanuts. I strolled along the parkway to my home, tossing peanuts to the squirrels’. They are so delightful to watch scurrying around gathering their nuts and seeds before scampering up the tree to deposit their goodies in their holes.
Seriously, this is not the way we talk. We don’t use fancy words. We walk to the store. The squirrels make us smile. When the dialogue is too out there, it stalls the story’s progression and it can interrupt the story flow.
If your characters live in the Deep South use the moonlight and magnolias, but use it sparingly. Don’t allow the idioms and local vocabulary to take over the dialogue. In the Northeast, alobstais colorful, and a stahis cute. But do you want to see that on every page? The local terms are spice only.
While profanity has a place, too much can be a turn off for the reader. I don’t like it in the movies or on TV. The same goes in our dialogue. A “hell” or “damn” carries more of a punch if it comes out of the blue. Remember Rhett Butler’s parting comment to Scarlet? “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” sent the critics into orbit, but it was such an appropriate response to the self-centered Scarlett.
Dialogue is action and well written dialogue moves the story and elicits a response from the reader. Keep it real. Use local slang and pronunciation to add spice to the conversation. If you use profanity, don’t over-do it. Make the words appropriate for the character so that they add a punch to the verbal exchange.