When I was first learning to write, I spent days on an exercise designed to help me pen realistic dialogue.
Step 1: Carry a notebook everywhere.
Step 2: Write down everything you say, and everything said to you.
Pages saturated with the loneliness of my childhood. Arguing parents, cruel peers, and numerous conversations with Sam.
Sam was my dog, and he seldom spoke.
Nobody wanted to read the dialogue of my life. This realisation led to habitual eavesdropping.
I currently have noisy neighbours. Every time I try to write, they start screaming. I’ve dedicated some time to writing the saga unfolding next door: Why did she leave him? Why did she returned? Had he cheated? Was she paranoid? And who the hell threw the brink through the front window?
She thought it was one of his whores.
He claimed it was random.
It turned out the shady activities she’d interpreted as infidelity were actually a result of secret debts. It came to a head the night after the incident with the brick. I was making a cup of tea when, clear as a bell, I hear her berating him, “How are you this thick? Your fool mate isn’t going to get you a clean gun!”
I was frozen, teaspoon in hand, staring at the kitchen wall, silently thinking, Sorry, love, but he really is that thick.
He'd set upon the notion of robbing a shop. He'd arranged to borrow a gun for the escapade and was convinced it was The Answer.
She informed him, in her typically blunt manner, that he'd be caught, sent down, and have an unsolved murder (linked to the unclean gun) pinned on him.
If he walked out the door, neither she nor his dog would be there when he got back.
It was a reasonable ultimatum, the kind I’d make in her position, but it was the way she said it that floored me. I’d have written, “If you walk out, we won’t be here when you get back.” Or, “Do this, and I’ll leave you!”
Never in a million years would I have come out with the perfect line she delivered:
"Your bird and your dog, or rob a shop."
The most sublime line imaginable. There was my story, in a furious and lusty little nutshell.
Your bird and your dog, or rob a shop.
I would never refer to myself as anyone’s ‘bird’ or use the third person in that context.
I don’t know anyone who would.
We all have our walks in life. There is a limit to our social spheres. Yet characters should come a range of backgrounds and cultures, all of which have unique phrases and inflections.
As a writer it's easy to get lost in your own head. But even with your expansive imagination your internal world(s) have limits.
To write compelling dialogue, focus not on yourself but on strangers.
Scribble in your notebook.
One day, someone may grace you with the most perfect line imaginable.
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Hazel Butler is a freelance writer and author of urban and dark fantasy. Her published works include Chasing Azrael (myBook.to/chasingazrael), an urban fantasy mystery with a Gothic twist, and Bleizgeist (myBook.to/bleizgeist), a dark fantasy novella about a young woman’s unusual magic, and struggle for acceptance in a harsh world.
Hazel blogs for The Huffington Post (www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/hazel-butler), runs The Bipolar Bear (www.bipolarbear.co.uk), a site dedicated to raising awareness of mental illness, and The Bookshine Bandit (www.bookshinebandit.com), a small business offering services for self-publishing authors. You can find her on her website (www.hazel-butler.com), Facebook (www.facebook.com/HazelJaneButler), Twitter (www.twitter.com/hazel_butler), Instagram (www.instagram.com/hazelherself) and Pinterest (www.pinterest.com/hazelherself).
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