There are thousands of rules when it comes to the use of contractions, verb usage and sentence structure in my Chicago Manual of Style. But where do we go to look for rules on dialogue? What do we do when we are writing in the voice of a street tough from New York? Or a fisherman back in from a run on the Grand Banks? These people don’t speak the same dialect, and they don’t follow the rules in any stylebook.
When we are writing dialogue we need to be true to our characters more so than any grammar rule. In fact it is often better if we ignore the rules entirely and go with our gut. Make your characters speak as they do in our heads – broken sentences, slang and all. Write it, and then read it aloud. Does it sound like someone talking? Better yet, if you have a good stretch of dialogue, have a friend read it with you as if you were reading a play. There is an ebb and a flow to the conversation. Without that rhythm the dialogue will sound forced, and won’t read like a realistic discussion / chat/ argument. Emotion plays a part in this rhythm – anger makes your sentences shorter, desire can lengthen the pace and cause…interesting pauses.
It’s also important that you are familiar with any special dialect you are attempting to recreate. Here are a couple of resources on dialects that I found interesting:
http://web.ku.edu/~idea/northamerica/canada/canada.htm (Canadian dialects – you can even catch a few audio clips)
http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/dialectsofenglish.html (English dialects, a study on how they sound, common slang, etc.)
http://www.rinkworks.com/dialect/ (these are more like parodies or real dialects, but they are really fun and can be inspiring when you type in your original text)
http://www.slangsite.com/ (the slang dictionary)
Have fun and talk the talk.
Eventually most authors come to a point where they simply can’t seem to generate the next idea. They can’t evoke the muse. Or they feel their plot is sick, and they can’t seem to find a way to help it out of it’s misery. Most authors who have reached this point blame their problems on writer’s block.
I say phooey.
Now let me quantify that – there really are times when we can’t write. But it is most often due to being overtired, rather than being blocked. There is a common cure for this state – often referred to as “refilling the well”. I am a great proponent of this cure. Blocked? Get some rest. A dream could be the answer. Go to an art show. Go for a walk. Do anything other than write – but for a short time, and if possible, include a creative slant to your non-writing activity. Do not watch TV – your mother was right, it will rot your brain.
After you have taken a short period of time off, go back and read your story. Like it? Then write – even if you skip ahead and write an easy scene that is coming up soon in the book. You can go back and fill in the rest later.
Beyond this, I hope all my writing friends are now equipped with at least one critique partner. Someone who you can count on to objectively read your work and tell you the truth. Let those partners guide you when you feel you’ve reached a dead end. Although you might not take their suggestion, the conversation often leads to new ideas for your subconscious to mull over.
You are not writing because a mystical entity is guiding you. You write because you have it in you to write. You just need to let it out again. Don’t wait for inspiration.
Why do you need an editor? After years of writing, why would you hand over good money to someone else to edit your books? Surely you know how to revise and edit and proofread your books by now. Well, perhaps you do. But most of us have found one simple truth, even after all those years of writing. We cannot see our own mistakes.
Seriously. How many times have you written something, reviewed it, revised it, only to give it to your critique partners and have them tell you about the big plot holes? Or the two times you gave the hero different eye colors? Spelled his name incorrectly? And it is nearly ompossible for you to notice senteneces that have the wrong tense, are missing commas, or have a reversed structure.
It’s up to your editor to find these things. A fresh set of trained eyes. And one who has never reviewed your work before can often find the problems in a character development arc, or sub plot. An editor will tell you when you don’t need an extra character. Or when your hero is just too tall. Or when a move in a fight scene is just plain impossible.
I have an editor. She is awesome on toast, Ms. Rhonda Helms. She does all of the above, and I love her for it. And no matter how long I have been editing, I will still need her, or someone like her. How about you?