Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dialogue Styles

Conversational styles vary from person to person, from personality to personality so an author wants to be aware of those styles when it comes to dialogue in fiction. Gender, education, occupation, age, environment (part of the country), upbringing, and so many other factors affect how a person talks. Listening to teenagers is a good example of dialogue differences: He goes, "I think you're cute," and I go, "Oh yah."

Regional Dialects
Some people who specialize in language can not only name the state a person is from but often the city. Writing these subtleties in fiction is not easy, but differences can be alluded to and allow the reader to hear the dialogue in their imagination.

You know that Bostonians will drop the "R" in their words. They drive a cah and put the cow in a bahn. It would be foolish to write a novel this way, but using a reference like this once or twice will create the illusion of a Boston accident in a novel. A "valley girl" from California has a distinctive way of speaking and we know the twang of some southerners. Using common phrases of the area will help the reader to get the flavor of the setting. Ya'll or Y'all makes a southern dialect obvious.
Gender DifferencesOne thing that’s obvious about dialogue is that men and women have different interests and styles of talking. Men talk about sports, politics and business. Women talk about feelings and relationships. Women express their emotions. Men tend to cover emotions with silence or change the subject, anyway to not deal with them.

In a 2004 CNN interview with Allan and Barbara Pease, it was stated that women can speak 20,000 to 24,000 words a day versus a man's top end of 7,000 to 10,000. That's 60% more talking. Women use more words because they like to offer details and feelings. Men deal with "only the facts ma'am."

Men also see things differently. Most are not bowled over by color, fabric, design -- unless it's an automobile or machine -- and so when men describe a women's outfit, it might be blue or red, but never aqua marine and scarlet. These are only a few differences but enough to alert authors that men and women have different dialogue styles.

Occupation Lingo
Whether they mean to or not, people talk using lingo from their occupations, hobbies, interests, and areas of expertise. While a man might use the phrase, you hit a home run with that idea or I'll go to bat for you or You just struck out with her, women wouldn't use these phrases in most situations. Women would more commonly use phrases such as: I'm up to my elbows in projects, you feel flat on your face, or Look at twinkle toes. As a novelist, the word deadline springs up in my conversation even when I'm talking about something other than writing. Tweak has definitely been a word added to my vocabulary.

Education and Upbringing
Characters who are not well educated will use more slang, cliches, dropped endings and bad grammar. I ain't gonna do that. Avoid making all characters speak in perfect English. Listen to people around you. How often do you hear the wrong verb with a subject. His eyes is beautiful. Each room in the all buildings are decorated differently. An occasional gonna or goin' works to set a regional or educational tone.

Whether gender, education, regional or age, make sure that the language and speaking style fit your character and is consistent throughout. Only with growth and change will readers expected differences and some things never change when it comes to dialogue.


ElizabethMThompson said...


I really appreciate your blog! I am learning something every time you post. Keep it up!



Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Elizabeth. Thanks so much. Knowing my blog is helping writers makes it worthwhile.

Blessings as you write.