Welcome to the 2018 Author Toolbox Blog Hop! It’s a monthly blog hop organized by the lovely Raimey Gallant aimed at helping authors discover all sorts of tools to help them be successful! Each month I’ll be sharing a different idea that has helped me or something new that I’ve just discovered that I’m trying out. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click here.
Writing Great Dialogue
I don’t really like to toot my own horn, therefore I don’t really like to dish out “expert” advice. But… the one consistent comment I’ve gotten from reviews of my submitted work (from rejections and acceptances) is that the character dialogue in my stories is very realistic. So when I thought about topics for this week, I decided to offer up some of the steps I take to create my best dialogue. (Since I write YA, this is going to apply to creating a realistic YA voice. I don’t think I’m qualified to speak about adult voices lol. I’m barely an adult. But if you just substitute “adults” where I say “teens”, I think these same steps would apply.)
1. Hear your characters’ voices
Before I write down one bit of my story or even the outline, I’ve let my characters grow and develop within my mind. I let them talk in my head while I’m in the shower, on my way to work, when I’m supposed to be paying attention in a very dull staff meeting at work. Any and all the time, I “write” the story in my mind and this includes the dialogue. I think this helps me because when it’s time to write down the words, I’m really just transcribing a live conversation I’ve heard. I’ve also already worked out in my head what works and what sounds forced or unrealistic.
2. Surround yourself with teens
It’s easy for me because I’m a teacher. I’m pretty sure I spend more time around teens than I do adults. Probably why I’m not very good at adulting. Haha. Obviously, everyone is not a teacher. So try to pay attention when you might be driving the kids in your carpool or eavesdrop on your kids when you’re making dinner 🙂 No kids? Watch some teen TV shows. I would suggest somehow finding a way to live in a teen world for moments in your day. There is definitely a different thought process. And it’s not enough, I don’t think, just to remember what you were like when you were younger. Times change. This means slang changes and so does the way teens interact with one another. The goal is to create authentic characters. The only way to create an authentic voice is to truly hear it and honor it.
3. Find a book to use as a study
You always hear that it’s important to read in the genre you are writing. I agree. But if I’m going to enjoy reading a book, I can’t be thinking about the technicalities of the author’s craft. So most of the time when I’m reading, I’m just a girl sitting in front of a book asking it to entertain me. Haha. But really, I’m just a reader. When I’m ready to craft a story, though, I choose one YA book–usually something everyone is gushing about–and use it as a handbook. I read it, but I barely pay attention to any of the entertainment value of it. I highlight and underline and circle. I make notes about dialogue tags and how they’re used. I pay attention to how the boys and girls speak. And I even read lines aloud. It becomes a reference book. When I’m writing, I have it by my side and I constantly refer to it and to the lines I’ve singled out.
And that’s about it! I wish I had some magical formula I could share, but I don’t. I really think it’s all about hearing the voice. Hearing the voices you create by living with them in your head and reading your work aloud and also hearing the voices in real life of the people you are trying to recreate. That’s what I would recommend 🙂 I’d love to hear any other tips you have, too!
I am a YA writer and middle school teacher. I have a B.A. in English from UCLA and a Master’s degree in Educational Administration. I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and currently reside in Los Angeles, California, with my dog Mr. Darcy.
When I’m not living in fictional worlds inside my head, I run all sorts of distances, torture my body at CrossFit, and DVR entirely too many television shows. I dream of one day returning to the Midwest to live on a farm. Or perhaps owning a cookie delivery service.