Real People Do Not Speak in Complete Sentences

Dialog is a tricky thing. I hold to the idea that every bit of dialog must push the story along in some way. It can be used to round out a character, or perhaps reveal some information the hero doesn’t know.

But be careful. Dialog, like everything else in fiction, must be believable. Your readers get to know your characters, so the dialog must sound like something a character would say. For example, if your character were a 15-year-old male, he likely would not say “I appreciate your comment, Ms. Smith, and will combine it with other feedback I’ve received.” That is, unless you have one incredibly smart and experienced 15-year-old!

And people don’t speak in complete sentences. You would never hear this:

“Good morning, Mrs. Smith. When I parked out by the curb this morning I noticed that someone has left a potted plant in the street. I fear the plant will shortly be dead if it does not receive abundant water.”

Perhaps it would be more like this:

“Some idiot dropped a pot on the road. I nearly hit it!”

Another possibility, taken from Broom 1, page 131:

“You’re on. Thursday morning at eleven.”
“Mountain time?”
“Yes, whatever time zone you’re in.”
“Mountain time. Not Pacific time,” I emphasized.
“Right. See you then.”

Now that sounds more like real interaction. Both people are in character. Each says only enough to convey the required information. It’s terse, but not abrupt.

Read your dialog out loud. Does it sound natural? Would you ever say something like that to a friend? If it doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t. As you interact with your friends and colleagues, take note of how real people approach conversation.

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One Response to Real People Do Not Speak in Complete Sentences

  1. susan palmer says:

    No kidding. But try to remember your audience and don’t write teen-speak if your audience is too “old” to understand it. You teens know what I mean.

    And those to of us who are over thirty, try to keep some of the English language going. Use those difficult, exciting words, flamboyant words, obsolete terminology. Otherwise the dictionary will drop them from print and we all lose their value. My kids used to say, “talk normal, mom.” What they meant, of course, is that I should dumb down my language. This is not a good idea.

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