One of my favorite criticisms is when people say to writers, “Your dialogue is not realistic.”
The reason this cracks me up is because have you ever really listened to most people’s realistic dialogue? It’s pretty funny and makes a pretty bizarre book.
I took this verbatim from a Halloween sleep over at my house in pre-COVID-19 times.
Here’s the scene:
There are six 14-year-olds. They are making cheesy ghosts with olive faces. This is the dialogue. It is verbatim.
And this, my friends, is why us writers don’t have perfectly accurate dialogue in our stories. Are you ready?
The Words They Said:
Didn’t H– make show choir?
She didn’t make it. She tried it again in the spring and she emailed Mrs. Wright and asked her what to work on but she used all these big words so then H– didn’t try out because she was mad.
Oh no… Big words
She told her she needed to work on her voice and stuff.
No offense but she does
(Abby keeps singing.)
Guys do not be mean.
I don’t want to be mean.
Did you hear her solo?
It was good but she got mad after awhile.
She got sick of it after awhile because Ben told her to do something on her solo.
Is Ben the guy who runs the band thing with the saxophones.
No he does the drama.
I’m so mad.
Can we do it?
Guys we would be amazing.
I would do the choreography. I’m so tough.
The three of us. No the four of us.
What about me. You guys hate me!
No… You don’t do musical stuff.
No! All of us can do it.
Oh! I’m so foolish…
I don’t know how to shape the ghost.
You have a hard butt.
Look! It has a belly button.
I got bored so I put more olives on it.
All of my cheese fell-off.Abby keeps singing.
Abby will you shut up!
(Mallory joins Abby in singing.)This is the dialogue, I swear.
Oh my God, you guys. Emily’s ghost looks like a Pac-Man.
It is a Pac-Man.
I decided to announce my geekiness to the world.
As a former reporter, I know how messy it is listening to people talk.
Realistic dialogue isn’t always the point. The point is that you want the dialogue to make sense, to advance your plot, to show character, to make your story sing. People will always ding writers on dialogue because they’ll expect the dialogue to reflect the people in their own world.
But the thing is that we all don’t talk the same. Donald Trump doesn’t sound like Barack Obama who doesn’t sound like Joe Biden who doesn’t sound like Mike Pence who doesn’t sound like Kamala Harris.
That’s okay. Just try to hear your own characters’ voices, but more than that, listen to the voices that don’t sound like you and don’t think that they don’t sound ‘realistic,’ instead rejoice in that difference. It’s pretty beautiful.
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