Go here for the post that inspired this post. I just discovered Scott Bailey's blog today thanks to Lady Glamis. A portion of the post was concerning dialogue, which inspired me to give my own thoughts about the subject. Hey, I take inspiration where/when I can get it, and I always acknowledge the source of inspiration. In the words of Billie Jean (not King or the song by Michael Jackson, but from the movie The Legend of Billie Jean): Fair is Fair!
For whatever reason, I excel (at least in my own mind) at writing dialogue. I'm absolutely fascinated by dialogue and just love a good conversation. I want my characters to have good - surprisingly real - conversations. I want the dialogue as natural and real as possible. I don't want to think hey, people don't talk like this when I'm reading a book. I also don't, just because my books take place in the South, want to fill my dialogue with y'all, yonder, you'uns and so much other stereotypical language that really doesn't happen on a daily basis. I live in the South (middle TN to be exact), and I can tell you that I rarely hear any of the aforementioned words. Yes, people do use those words in the South, just not as often as television shows would have you believe. If it's not so in real life, don't make it so in your book.
My point (yes, I do have one) is that dialogue should seem natural and real. Not every character should talk in exactly the same manner. Give your characters quirks. For example, my 8th grade teacher used the word okay all the time. I mean ALL the time. I picked it up and started using it ALL the time. My father constantly corrected me until I slowly stopped using the word. Well, today, okay, at school, okay, we learned, okay, about the, okay, Illinois constitution, okay, and then . . . My parents had no clue why I was suddenly using that word, until the parent teacher conference. Lightbulb! My mother came home and told me she now knew why I was using the word so much, but to stop it anyway! Yes, Mom can be blunt at times. She's even worse now that she's in her 80s. Geesh!
So (yes, I know, I use that word a lot to - get over it), I try and have the different characters use particular words (like, okay, uh) or phrases (ya know what I mean, I'm just saying, can you believe) to characterize their individuality. At some point, all the characters might use a particular phrase, because the phrase just happens to be catchy, and people sometimes tune into things (okay, are you, okay, like, getting, okay, my point) without even realizing they are doing it. Thankfully, my parents broke me of the okay habit.
Okay . . . kidding, people, kidding . . .
Sometimes, dialogue can feel stilted or just there for the sake of propelling a story. Don't do it! Step away from the keyboard. Rethink your decision to have Dick, Jane, Sally, and Spot (yes, I know, most people reading this blog have no clue who those characters are - I do, and that's all that matters) have a convenient conversation to propel the story forward. Every conversation, every word of dialogue, should make sense and have a natural feel - at least in my opinion. Others might disagree. That's the joy of the blogsphere: dissenting opinions exist, and all the writers in the world can view these opinions, learn from them, and make their own mark on the blogsphere and, hopefully, the literary world one day as well. I'm just saying . . .
Now, how do you use dialogue? Do you use regional dialects? Do you research the region to make sure people actually say you'uns or y'all in everyday conversation? Do you base your dialogue on those you know? Do you use key words your friends/family/coworkers use? Do you have a character that is like using the word like so often it's like the sound of nails on a blackboard? Do you enjoy writing dialogue? Is it your strength or weakness?
My weakness right now is that I hear Ben & Jerry's calling my name. Death by Chocolate to be precise. It's a sad fact of life that there is a Ben & Jerry's within walking distance of my office, oh, and a Starbucks too. I'm doomed, I tell you, doomed.