In real life, conversations are often less-than-stellar. We get by with incomplete sentences, inconsistent pronouns, all sorts of grammatical errors and limited vocabularies. We manage to communicate, but it’s rarely poetic, dramatic or worth repeating verbatim.
In fiction, we expect more of characters. Smart characters should sound smart. Young characters should sound young. The conversational styles of characters should reflect who they are—education, profession, background, geography, temperament and mood—and be, overall, more interesting than conversations in real life.
And yet, they have to read as real!
There’s the conundrum—a word that is perfect for this sentence and rarely used in regular conversation. Real, but BETTER, real but with more zing, and often, more precision…
There’s a boatload of dialog in my new novel-in-progress and while putting words into the mouths of my characters—a clever bunch of people with a wide range of personal histories, educations, ages and backgrounds—I’m considering what I call dialog hiccups.
In real conversations, they are the phrases that help us string thoughts together, cover awkward pauses and connect with other people. One of my friends often punctuates her conversations with “You’d do that too” or “You’d feel the same way.” Both phrases include the other person and reinforce camaraderie. It’s her way of saying, “we are in this together, right?”
Other people pepper conversations with “anyway”; “honestly”; “to be perfectly clear”; or the dreaded “like.” When I hear myself relying too heavily on any dialog hiccup, I try to meander away from it. It’s very difficult to monitor and change your own hiccups.
In creating credible, and yet interesting, dialog for characters, these hiccups can be useful. One character, while telling a long story about her past, returned to “anyway” repeatedly. Each natural tangent ended with a word that enabled her to return to the heart of her story.