Writing Dialogue From Different Perspectives

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by Suzanne D. Williams

I gave this example the other day of how several of my friends would approach the same sentence within a story.

Me:  The horse is blue.

Friend #1:  Horses can’t be blue.

Friend #2:  I’d say turquoise.

Friend #3:  You mentioned the horse’s color back in chapter 2.

Each of us has our own perspective during a situation. Where Friend #1 is logical, Friend #2 accepts the unreality of a blue horse and expands on it. Friend #3 (which is my editor and a good reason why I pay her) has compiled all the facts and given the answer I probably most needed. But here’s the thing. None of them were wrong. They simply have different views of the same thing.

Applying this to dialogue, your characters shouldn’t all talk alike, especially if you’re dealing with genders (male and female) or ethnic backgrounds (black, Irish, Asian) or anything job related (computer tech, auto mechanic, Victorian lady). As a personal example, I cannot write Amish stories (I’ve tried). I don’t sound Amish. I can’t write surf stories either. I’m not up on the lingo. But give me country folk like I grew up with, and I’m your gal.

In this same vein, a man shouldn’t sound like a woman. I saw an example of this just the other day by an author I do not personally know. In this case, the male main character was being romantic with his wife or girlfriend. I kept thinking, “A man would never say all that.” Men are much more simple minded (not necessarily a bad thing). Thinking of the men in my life (husband, brother, father, uncle) and how they’d respond to the sentence about the horse, most of them would either divert the subject or reply with, “I’m going out to <insert task>,” and leave me sitting there.

There must always be an element of reality when a character speaks. Men sound like men. Older women sound like their generation. Someone from California doesn’t sound like she grew up in Georgia.

If you make the character from another country, you’d better be up on the language differences between that country and the setting of your story. Again, as an example, I read a book by a British author set in California. It was a good story. Problem was, she used British terms for things such as parking lots and schools, and that was in all of her reviews.

First, she could have solved this with a knowledgeable editor. Second, she should have thought of it herself. Just as soon as you think you can fudge the truth in a book, someone with more knowledge will correct you. I know, more than once, I’ve used Southern terms that people didn’t understand.

Applying this specifically to dialogue, though your experiences will always reflect in your writing style, not every female main character should sound specifically like you or, between your different books, like all the other characters you’ve created. A friend of mine had an air-headed character that she could not quite grasp hold of how she’d act or talk because she, herself, was far more logical. But though it was difficult for her, she was aware of it, and that made the difference.

Many times, I’ve erased 90% of a man’s conversation because it was too long or reworded segments when a woman talked because it didn’t fit with the character’s personality. Both must be a serious consideration, and if you’re struggling with this, then have a friend read it. I had a man read my first romance novel to make sure the guys sounded like guys.

Also, avoid stereotypes if you can. Not every man from Texas refers to a woman as “darlin’” and not every surfer from Hawaii says, “brah”. A sprinkling of colloquialisms is cute. But overdo it and your readers will go the other way.

Dialogue is incredibly personal. The mood, the style of talk, and the amount of content are all determined by what you wish to convey. Uncertainty, fear, a teenage crush, so many factors change what would be said. Weigh everything, be sure to have someone you trust edit it, and do your own research – listen to how people around you talk. That is often the best way to avoid common dialogue pitfalls.

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Suzanne D. WilliamsBest-selling author, Suzanne D. Williams, is a native Floridian, wife, mother, and photographer. She is the author of both nonfiction and fiction books. She writes devotionals and instructional articles for various blogs. She also does graphic design for self-publishing authors. She is co-founder of THE EDGE.

To learn more about what she’s doing and check out her extensive catalog of stories, visit http://www.feelgoodromance.com or link with her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/suzannedwilliamsauthor or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SDWAuthor.

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