April 6, 2020 at 6:56 pm #109957Hope Ann@hope-ann
Another character question, this one from Emma:
I have a main character who comes from a well-to-do family and is well educated. When she is talking to characters who are not wealthy or well educated, she uses normal dialogue. But I want the dialogue between her and her family to sound educated and eloquent without being so wordy that my readers are turned off. How can I find a balance?
Victory in the march. Hope in the destination.April 8, 2020 at 11:19 am #109977Princess Foo@princess-foo
A really simple way to do this is contractions. Can’t vs cannot. I’m vs I am.
The cake is a lie. acaylor.comApril 8, 2020 at 2:34 pm #109979
Maybe stick in a big word here or there, or have her always use a certain “more sophisticated” word in place of a more typically-used word, but other than that, try to have her use normal words and speech.
Courage, dear heart.April 8, 2020 at 7:17 pm #109987The Inkspiller@the-inkspiller
1. One way (that’s a little meta) is to give her (and her family) all the smart sounding lines – the pithy sayings, the most put together sentences. Not necessarily the most impactful ones or the deepest ones, but the ones which sound good. Trying out different lines out loud may help in getting the kind of imagined intonation down (coupled with the judicious use of italics).
2. Depending on the time period / cultural milieu in which your story is set, you may be able to get away with more archaisms, both in words, grammar, and syntax. If your story is set in a medieval, ancient, or otherwise ‘medieval-ish fantasy’ world, the setting will permit you to have more “epic” sounding characters whose dialogue might as well be pulled from the Old Testament or from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
3. If working with a more modern (18th-19th century) period, one of the key class distinctions between rich and poor / educated and unschooled is not necessarily verbosity, but grammatically correct verbosity. “Normal” people will tend to use multiple shorter sentences or speak quickly, stitching together multiple clauses which may not necessarily go well together, including umms and ahhs and other sorts of things that we’re not supposed to put in our dialogue. Use it, along with as many colloquialisms as you can find (hint: if it’s set in 19th century America, just read some Mark Twain. You’ll pick it up.)
The “educated” class is more likely to use one longer, but ultimately more concise sentence in conversation; they are also more likely to play around with their words in terms of metaphor, inverted syntax, double-entendres, and other such plays-on-words – in other words, they’ll turn conversation into a puzzle, a game for amusement. The equivalent of colloquialisms or ‘common’ idioms for them isn’t necessarily going to be “big” words with lots of syllables (I’ve scant seen lugubrious used, but tenebrous has a certain doomed ominousness to it); instead, they will default to foreign equivalents, especially French. Instead of, “Well chump, that’s just how the dice rolls,” a posh speaker might simply say, “C’est la vie, as the French say.” Seriously, throughout history, the French have always got
4. The same goes for the 20th century, for at least the first half. Steinbeck is a good source for American colloquialisms and mannerism, as many / most of his writings (e.g., Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday, Grapes of Wrath) concerned 1930s America. Honestly, regardless of era, I would recommend reading Sweet Thursday, if only for the 4th wall penetrating foreword in which Steinbeck’s characters talk about characterization and description through dialogue alone. Steinbeck is a masterclass example of creating character almost purely through the way they talk and act.
TL;DR Word choice is everything.
Example of points 1 & 2 from a story I’ve been working on recently; Kyreleis is intended to be the example of ‘posh’ speech.
“She is the one Sir Heino saw! The demon he claimed to see.”
Kyreleis’ lip curled in a cruel smile. “Is it now? And wherefore did you reason to bring it where it might wreak further havoc still?”
“She would have been lynched by the villagers.”
“One does not bring the cold snake into the house merely because you feel bad for it. I did not expect such foolishness even from you, Erhard.” Kyreleis sighed and drew her sword, taking a heavy step towards Erhard and the waif in his bed.
- This reply was modified 1 year, 3 months ago by The Inkspiller.
Non nobis Domine, sed nomini, Tuo da gloriam.April 12, 2020 at 2:39 pm #110105
Wow, this is really good! It sounds like you’ve really read up on it and researched it! 😀
Courage, dear heart.April 12, 2020 at 8:37 pm #110118The Inkspiller@the-inkspiller
@kristianne-hassman, Thank you!
(Even though I can’t help but fret over the typo in the middle where I meant to say, “the French have always got [received] a peculiar status as the cultural center of Europe ever since the fall of Rome.”)
It mostly came down to a lot of practice and reading; as I mentioned, Steinbeck was absolutely fundamental to the development of my concept of dialogue. After him, I looked back at Shakespeare and the Bible (and Tolkien too) and realized that part of what made great dialogue great was a sense of pacing and meter – not just having the most advanced or most descriptive words, but the word which had the right length and the right emphasis at the right point. You can’t labor that much over every line – really it’s best to save that kind of effort for the most critical of lines – but figuring out where the mind naturally takes its breaths has helped me to build longer sentences and dialogue which doesn’t bog down the reader.
Still very much a work in progress though. 😛
Non nobis Domine, sed nomini, Tuo da gloriam.April 16, 2020 at 12:50 pm #110286
You sound like me . . . If I make a typo, I agonize over it and chastise myself about it for the longest time! 😛
That’s neat! And an interesting concept that it’s not just about using big, complex words. I’ve actually never thought about it in that way–that it’s also about meter and the flow of the words as well.
Courage, dear heart.April 23, 2020 at 11:37 am #110844Loki@loki
I have a lot of characters who are Kings/other types of Royalty or Nobles, and a normal conversation between characters goes like this:
King Joffrey: Ah, Sir Duncan! A pleasure to meet you.
Sir Duncan: Thank you, your majesty. It is an honor to be in your presence.
King Joffrey: Oh please Sir Duncan, you need not tremble at my presence, we are all friends here. Come, sit!
Sir Duncan: Very well, your majesty. And say, have you heard of the theft that took place down in Hamingshire?
King Joffrey: Oh have I ever. It is all the noble families talk about now.
Sir Duncan: Indeed, they say the thief stole two whole pigs, right out from under the butcher’s nose!
King Joffrey: nodding Some kind of ‘scaped (Escaped) pirate or vagabond on the run from the authorities, no doubt.
Avoiding words that have contractions like “Can’t” “I’m” “don’t” or “You’re” can help a lot as well, and you might want to consider reading some Shakespeare.
“You shan’t stop me, no. No mortal men nor any beast shall stay my pen or still my hands. I write ’til my fingers do turn to dust and my bones give way under me, for such is my zeal in this task. O what joy to be a writer! What chore of my heart’s delight!”
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