One of the more interesting parts of writing a novel is how much you come to realize how very different dialogue is than actual human speech.
I’ve tackled this on the blog before, and it was driven home for me when I was on a panel this past Friday at the Backspace Writers Conference.
There was a question about how much modern slang to incorporate into your novel. I personally wrote novels that were set from 2010-2013 (Um. I think those were the years. Where’s my series bible again?), and I very strenuously avoided any hint of modern slang.
Why? Because slang changes. It can date your book. You can’t predict how it will evolve.
But more importantly, when you are writing dialogue in your novel, you are not beholden to the real world. You don’t have to answer to it. You are beholden only to the world of your novel.
No child who has ever lived has spoken like Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes. He uses words I have to look up in the dictionary. And yet no one would ever mistake Calvin for an adult. Within the world of Calvin & Hobbes, Calvin still sounds like a kid. It’s believable in that world.
You have tremendous leeway as an author to set the ground rules for dialogue and to let your characters speak how they speak.
Don’t ever try to imitate real life, because real life transcribed dialogue doesn’t translate. Even during my answer on the panel, I said “The the the…” in quick succesion. I doubt anyone noticed because it was within the flow of conversation and I wasn’t otherwise struggling for words. But put that on the page and I would sound like I was stuttering and grasping for confidence. It wouldn’t translate in the same way.
Cast away real life when you’re writing your dialogue. Instead, be true to the world of your novel. As long as it makes sense in your world, your reader will find it believable.
Art: The Discussion by Harry Wilson Watrous