Thursday, February 23, 2012

Say What?

Welcome to Thursday’s Writers’ Corner. If you’re new to my blog, this is a weekly feature to encourage fellow writers. No matter where you are in your writing journey, encouragement is a good thing.

Tomorrow, I’m off to The Cove (Billy Graham training center) in Asheville, NC, for a weekend writers’ bootcamp. Should be interesting! As long as I don’t have to do pushups, I’ll be okay. J

Please pray for my traveling safety and that I’ll learn what God wants me to in order to further His kingdom through my writing.

Meanwhile, will you consider becoming a follower of my blog? I’ve also added a simple subscriber box, if you’d like an e-mail alert when I post something new.

Now, let’s discuss a skill many writers struggle with, especially in the beginning. I certainly did. Dialogue and character building.

Think of writing dialogue as the opposite of the polished prose surrounding it, at least to some degree. Your character’s speech should reflect his/her origin and dialect for that region of the country or the country itself, if your setting is a foreign land. This is where good research is a necessity.

If your characters are from Minnesota, they won’t say “yall” when referring to others. However, if your character is from the Southern US, they will. Pepper your character’s speech with the local vernacular.

For the purpose of this blog, we’ll stick with the South for examples, since that’s where I live J

In creating dialogue for Southerners, you might drop the ending of words that end in –ing or drop the beginning syllable. A common joke here in SC is that one syllable words are pronounced with two syllables and multi-syllable words are pronounced in a single syllable when possible. While some folks speak that way, trust me, it’s not the norm for everyone. Even within a setting, you’ll find different degrees of accent. Some are stronger than others, and this should reflect in your characters.


“Are you goin’ to the store?”

“How ‘bout a cup of coffee?”

“Somethin’s eatin’ at him.”

Be careful not to overdo the accents or slang. A Southern character won’t say “yall” every time they speak. Make sure your characters sound real regardless of their setting and stay consistent within the character’s accent.

As a beginning writer, it’s easy to slip into your own dialect. Your slang or commonly used words become your characters’ speech pattern.

I can’t stress this enough, if you’re not sure what the dialect is for your character’s setting, research it!

When writing dialogue, the best way to determine if it sounds real is read aloud what you’ve written. Does it flow like someone speaking? There should be contractions and fragments in the dialogue, just like we talk.

Same reasoning applies to developing characters. Names are an excellent way to start character development and can represent the degree to which the person reflects their heritage. For example, the names Billy Bob Thornton or Billy Ray Cyrus conjure up a mental image of a good ol’ Southern boy.

But not all characters will be developed to an extreme. Readers will grow tired of characters who all mirror each other. Even if your book is set in the South, some characters will be refined and perhaps their speech won’t be distinguishable from any other part of the U.S. Overuse of stereotypical language because the writer hasn’t done their research will be apparent.

Spend a few minutes reading aloud your WIP and see if your characters seem real to you. Meanwhile, enjoy this humorous video, "Bill Cosby, Understanding Southern," from his old TV show, You Bet Your Life.


  1. Thanks so much for your practical advice, Laura. I have been telling other writers about your blog. We all need encouragement as well as instruction to hone our writing gifts. Thanks! Gail