A story can have a vibrant world and a brilliant plot, but it’s all for naught if the characters don’t act like genuine people (or elves, trolls, whatever, you get it). This blog series is about creating authentic characters who act and react realistically in fantastic and futuristic worlds.
Elements of Dialogue Patterns
Authentic characters have actions they’d never take, but they also have words they’d never say. A lot goes into your character’s dialogue, but most important is their education level and upbringing. A character’s intelligence and how well-read they are doesn’t influence their alignment or motivation unless they are motivated by gaining wisdom. Still, it does come into play when deciding how a character speaks and what kind of vocabulary they use.
Give your character a few favorite words, slight affectations, and grammar patterns. You might want to start by looking over a list of rhetorical devices and assigning a few to some of your characters. Perhaps you have a character who favors the rule of three or is fond of alteration. Other traits can inform dialogue; a shy character will try to speak less than a gregarious one. The goal here is, if you read just the line of dialogue with no other context, would you be able to tell which of your characters said it?
Look at this piece of dialogue from The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien. You don’t need the dialogue tag to figure out who said, “Now, Mr. Frodo…”
“Why, Sam,” he said, “to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you’ve left out one of the chief characters; Samwise the stout hearted. ‘I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, dad? That’s what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?’”
"Now, Mr. Frodo," said Sam, "you shouldn't make fun. I was serious.”
"So was I," said Frodo, "and so I am. We're going on a bit too fast…"
Ye Olde Annoying Dialogue
Dialogue patterns and particular words may be specific to the world you've built, so take the overall culture into consideration when crafting speech. I'd caution against attempting to make your dialogue sound "old English" because it's in a high fantasy setting or futuristic because it's a visionary sci-fi. These mannerisms end up making your dialogue unreadable.
Very few readers want to wade through "Ye ole" and "thou" to discern what a character means to say. Instead, pepper your dialogue with references to the elements in your medieval or futuristic worlds. Similarly, steer away from characters with stutters, lisps, and heavy affectations or accents, unless their minor characters, the dialogue will be too difficult for your reader to slog through.
For this last activity, give your character something to say. Maybe they will introduce themselves to you. Perhaps your character will comment on being dragged into this world by you (kicking and screaming?). Possibly, they have something to say about the outfit you're wearing, or have them discuss this morning's news. Whatever it is, make sure it's in your character's unique voice.
That's the last blog in this series, but I already have another one in the works! I hope you enjoyed it!
Other Blogs in This Series: