On Writing Dialogue

Do we write what we hear, or what’s intended?
Is consistency in character necessary when we write dialogue?
Do we need to make that differentiation?

The answer to the above questions is “yes” … except when it’s “no”.

If you’re writing non-fiction, or any other “serious” genera, you will want to avoid any  slang at all; unless you are trying to record a person’s quote exactly as given.

If you’re writing fiction, however, writing different speech patters, slang, dialect, or accent can improve the flow, the look, and the need for constant repetition of phrases like: “he said”, “she remarked”, or “they retorted quickly”.

See the section, below, from Sinclair LewisBabbit, chapter IV, section IV; a conversation between George Babbit and Paul Riesling.


“… Wanta speak Mist’ Riesling, Mist’ Babbit Talking … ‘Lo, Paul?”

“S George speaking.”
“How’s old socks?”
“Fair to middlin’.How ‘re you?”
“Fine, Paulibus. Well, what do you know?”

“Oh, nothing much.”

“Where you been keepin’ yourself?”

“Oh, just stickin’ round. What’s up, Georgie?”

“How ’bout lil lunch ‘s noon?”
“Be all right with me, I guess. Club?”

“Yuh. Meet you there twelve-thirty.”
“A’ right. Twelve thirty. S’ long, Georgie.”

Note that Lewis used the dialogue, itself to indicate which of his character is speaking without repeated “He said, She said”. You may want to experiment with this style dialogue in your own writing.

Often, dialogue in writing reflects heavy use of slang and contractions. See below for an example, again from Lewis’ Babbit; chapter VI, section III; this time Mrs. Babbit to their son, Ted.

“Snoway talkcher father.”

This is an extreme example, but worth it if you can hear all the inflections. You would probably need to say it aloud to make it work.

In listening, I find myself “mis-hearing” statements which can be in two – or maybe more – ways, expressing totally different meanings. For example, we had a guest speaker at our church last evening. When talking about his son he told us he wanted to be “some kind of an engineer”. I, in my overly-critical manner, say his son wanted to be “some kinda Ninja near”. But that’s probably just me!

The disadvantage in writing what you hear is the danger of writing exactly what you hear, phonetically, is it may become totally unreadable: for example “Jeetyet” instead of “Did ja eat yet?” (This is usually used as an exercise in enunciation for actors, but my writing often reflects my other interests, experiences,  and backgrounds.)

Now, read over some of your work – especially books “in progress” – and see where you can improve it using these pointers. Your publisher will appreciate it and your readers will find you book much more readable!

So, until next time;
Write On!



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