24 March 2014

Learning Natural Dialogue From Your Text Messages

My daughter and I had this conversation while text messaging last evening and it got me thinking about my characters and how I distinguish them from one another. If taken out of context, one could easily claim I am a bad mother for insinuating my daughter is a pig or a whale. Hello, Alec Baldwin.

However, this conversation takes place between two very confident women who are definitely comfortable in their own skin.

Knowing my daughter as well as I do, I can allow my own personality to surface while having this conversation. My daughter's personality is also very much present in the text dialogue, at least to me. The dancing lady and the bikini are on her mind these days because an upcoming pool party lurks around the corner and she is preparing to step out in her amazing new bathing suit!

If you're having problems distinguishing one character from another, or a critique partner has mentioned your characters are blurring together, my suggestion would be to spend some time texting with friends and family members and pay particular attention to each personality, including your own. Save your text messages and read back through them the next day.

To me, I think if you want to get down to natural dialogue, you should study your text messages. It is hard to recall conversations from memory, so texting is probably the best way to show the contrast between two personalities without all the fluff of trying to develop your characters, which can sometimes come across as a bit trite with dialogue.

I'll share another conversation between me and my daughter. We love to communicate via emoticons. You can't tell? Her favorite television show when she was nine years old was Pokemon, and we had learned the Team Rocket chant together.

When Tim was on his way home from Chicago, he had a layover in Charlotte, NC where he observed two very different types of people. These are actual conversations people have. Sure, it seems a bit racy, but it's natural dialogue, and that's why when readers see it in fiction, it resonates with that semblance of truth we're always discussing.

I drink Redbull! 

Young people knit, too! (but not many)

Yes, behaviors speak for themselves. Even my daughter understands Asians prefer rice over potatoes and we have higher I.Q.s than the average Neanderthal. It's not wrong to include this sort of dialogue in your fiction. It's truth. Sort of.

Not dialogue, but a form of communication. This is a picture of the form Tim filled out at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, FL. They have to expect this sort of thing from people. The form screams, "Please do it, please!"

 when you see it.

They should put "memory loss" as the first option so you don't have to waste your time filling out the rest if you don't want to.

Okay, back to conversations and dialogue. Texting doesn't always produce natural dialogue between son and mother. My son Cameron likes to abbreviate, and Lord knows you can't get away with that in your novel. You also don't have auto-correct issues, and hopefully you proof your writing before sending on to your editor?

In this next snap shot, pay particular attention to the dates and times. Notice I respond immediately to each inquiry and/or comment, so the last communication is a bit ironic.

That was texting between two people who have been married for 26 years. Go figure.

This is typical mother daughter discussion in my family. We own our stereotypes, good and bad, and we can laugh about them. It is natural.

Do your characters discuss fashion at all? I can tell you, a nineteen year old has different taste than someone two and half decades older. Natural dialogue should reflect those age differences.

My daughter and I had breakfast at Village Inn one day for lunch and when I woke up in the morning to go to work, this was the exchange we had.

I helped my son update his resume for a tech job. Can you tell which personality trait of his is demonstrated in this ongoing dialogue? 

Chelsey worked a late shift on a weekend, but she didn't get a chance to come over and pay her rent. Her personality sure does resonate in this exchange.

Chelsey had a minor fender bender and lost her side passenger mirror,  so we had to coordinate our busy schedules to get it fixed.

Saving text messages is just something I like to do. It seems to have replaced the urge to pick up a camera in order to capture moments in time. Instead of pictures, I capture dialogue. It has worked out as a great tool when fleshing out my favorite characters.

What tools do you use to ensure your characters stand out as individuals or keep them from bleeding into each other?

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