People don’t actually talk in sentences. That’s fine for real life, but it’s a bit of a nuisance when it comes to dialogue. People don’t punctuate their sentences when they speak, and, often, break down sentences, phrases or even words in the strangest ways that have nothing at all to do with grammar and everything to do with running out of breath, stumbling over a word or thought, being unprepared for the end of the sentence, changing their minds about what it is they want to say, and generally being human.
It isn’t easy to do in written dialogue.
We all have our own voices; we all have idiosyncrasies, and we all have words or phrases that we favour or even over-use. We all emphasise things ever-so slightly differently.
The point of all this is to show that writing dialogue isn’t terribly easy. It can be done, of course, and some novelists do it very well. There are also tricks to defining different characters by their speech patterns, which is great so long as you don’t go too far and turn everyone into stereotypes or caricatures.
Of course, if you’re very lucky, the characters in your story might just begin to talk to you, and when they do, you’ll have no choice but to listen. It’s a great feeling when the dialogue comes so easily, but it can be just a little disconcerting when a character’s voice is so strong and so persistent that he or she begins to dictate the story.
I know you don’t believe me, because I’ve heard other writers talk like this, and I didn’t believe them, either.
I will just say this, though, if the protagonist of Naming Names hadn’t become very insistent about telling me everything in minute detail, and if I hadn’t learnt to listen to her, I don’t think I would ever have been shortlisted in the Mslexia novel writing competition, and I certainly wouldn’t have been a runner-up for the prize.
I now have a title for my next novel, and a good idea of who the protagonist is, so, if you’d all like to be quiet for a bit, I’m going to see if I can’t hear his voice somewhere out there in the ether.
Wish me luck.