At the moment, I write YA fiction. That doesn’t mean that in the future, I wouldn’t like to move onto more literary work. But right now, YA is where I’m comfortable. A big part of that comfort comes from my work with dialogue.
When you start writing, you need to know what makes you happy, and what makes you want to throw your laptop. Some people are amazing at writing descriptions, some are fantastic at coming up with unique places. For me, I was drawn to catchy dialogue. Maybe this is because I started writing scripts for drama classes in high school and it was my job to make them funny (I’m writing another blog on translating humour soon!).
For me, the biggest thing when writing dialogue is deciding whether or not you are going for the here-and-now approach, or longevity. Here’s an example: I recently read a book by author Julie Halpern called The F-it List. This book uses phrases and terms that are currently popping up on social media and generally around us. Personally I found it entertaining. But, what concerns me with this type of dialogue is that in two, five, ten years, teen readers are going to be googling (if google is still around) what YOLO means. It’s a bit like when you watch Happy Days.
“You’re the Cat’s Pajamas … ? Did he just insult me?”
I’m a self-published author and so I need longevity in my dialogue, because I never know how long it might take for readers to pick up my book. Also my first series is sci-fi/fantasy and based in totally made up world. So … I think calling someone a douche isn’t a great choice; pick accurate phrases for the time and setting.
If you’re a best-selling author with publishing houses knocking down your door, then you can afford to be more forward-thinking with your dialogue. If you’re an indie author and you want to write what is happening now, I certainly won’t bag you out, but remember that it’s always better to challenge yourself than to write what feels easy because it’s around you right now.
1) If you’re not eighteen, but you’re writing an eighteen-year-old, try and remember what it felt like to be eighteen. Were you as confident when you spoke as you are now? Were you MORE confident and lost it somewhere? Use this to develop your protags and badies.
2) Dialogue is only half actual speaking. Body language is the communication of the future. How does your character sit? Are they a nervous fiddler? Are they a smirking-smartass?
3) It never hurts to read your dialogue aloud. You’ll know instantly if something sounds off.
4) Remember no one is perfect. I love writing dialogue and yet I still make huge boo-boos. One time, I had a man smack my protagonist with a briefcase and the way I wrote it, it sounded like she really loved it; instead of being extremely annoyed.