Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Creating Convincing Dialogue

I get Google Alerts so I know when my name gets mentioned on the internet. The only trouble is, my name is hardly unusual so I get alerts for a photographer, a legal big cheese and a Texan volleyball player, among others. I see the first two lines of the relevant post. This came into my inbox yesterday...

Sarah Duncan walked 4.46 kilometers in 51 mins. It was VERY cold & windy. Another neighbor came with us and she walks slower so we could not walk as fast as ...

I imagine she's about fortyish, with ash-blonde streaks because she's going a little bit grey. She likes to wrap a big scarf around her neck and dig her hands deep in her pockets, along with a tube of Lipsalve and tissues still in the packet. She wears sea colours: mid blues and greens. Her husband told her when they were dating that they brought out the colour of her eyes. That was more years ago than she cares to mention. Since January she has been walking with her friend from across the road - Patty - to try to get fit and lose some weight. They're doing OK, they've been surprised at how easy it is to build up their times over the distance. When they finished the walk, the neighbour wanted to join them again, and they smiled and said they'd let her know, but knew they wouldn't.

That's all made up. For all I know, she's a lapdancer with dark hair snaking down her back. But not to me. My version comes from those few lines and the clues: the precision of the distance, the capitalised VERY, the sentence construction - particularly the 'she walks slower'. I'm busy constructing a whole persona from those clues.

So as writers, we need to make sure the clues are there. The problem is, I don't think you can construct the voice to fit the character - at least, that's not how it works for me. I hear the voice first. I hear how they speak, their intonation, their sentence construction, their accent, if they use jargon, or a particular vocabulary. I hear them, and from what they say, I work out how they look and how they are.

Writing this post, I realise that's the same process a reader goes through. They read/hear the dialogue and pick up clues, just the same way I did for speedwalking Sarah Duncan. I don't know if other writers do it the same way, but it seems a good way to create convincing dialogue - hear it first, then write it down.

PS Absolutely nothing to do with writing, but my lovely daughter Isabel is entering for Miss Bath! She needs people to vote for her, so if any one felt inclined to do so, text 11Isabel to 84205 - the downside is it costs 60p per text.


Anonymous said...

Another great post Sarah. Regarding the Beauty Contest voting, voters can also go to the web site and send a vote via email which is free!

Ann Patey

Sarah Duncan said...

Thanks Ann, and for the beauty contest info.