Dialog often takes the driver’s seat in my stories and lately I’ve been concentrating on creating conversations that work on two levels. One, they carry the story forward with important exposition delivered in a natural manner AND two, they reveal as much about the speaker as they do about the story.
This is a big challenge but… I’m up for it.
My goal is to make language choices for each character that are spot on — maybe so spot on that reminders about who is talking will become irrelevant. This means talking about talking with my characters. Well, maybe not in a conventional conversation, but I want to know as much about the character’s speech a I know about his or her appearance.
Sometimes a back-story can be enhanced with vocabulary choices. An erudite professor won’t use the same words as a character with little or no formal education. Or will he? If the undereducated character’s back-story is about being self-taught and he’s carefully crafted an image that makes the impression he’s an Ivy League grad who does the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink, his vocabulary might be top-loaded with SAT study-guide words.
I also think it’s important not to indulge in easy stereotypes, unless that’s your clear intention. Genre fiction, movies and TV shows are crowded with mobsters defined by their heavy New York (Brooklyn or Bronx) or New Jersey accents; Valley-Girl/air-head teenaged girls who default to “LIKE” between phrases; strong, silent tough guys and women who end every statement with a question, as if they are constantly in doubt. All of these stereotypes can help forward your story, acting as familiar shortcuts, but they can also undermine the unique nature of individual characters.
One of the tricks I’m keeping in mind is how a character references the senses and sense memories. While a visually oriented character might use the phrase “I see what you mean.” Another character might chose, “I hear you.” They are both agreeing with what another character is saying, but in their own way.
I’ve also discovered, again, that simply listening to conversations is key. Yes, I recommend discreet eavesdropping. It is so educational.
When it comes to MONSTERS, and other magical/paranormal characters, there aren’t a lot of handy models chatting at the next table at a coffee bar, but there are plenty of examples of conversations in which greed, jealousy, anger, hunger, paranoia, revenge, narcissism, power, self-deprecation, etc. etc. etc. are the stars.
So listen to the words that people choose — monstrous creatures have similar linguistic patterns.