So far, most of my editions of Verb(al) Abuse were general, directed more towards the hoi polloi than the writing community. Granted, I think most of the writers reading my mental detritus got a good chuckle from what they found so… mission accomplished? Anyway, this section’s more geared towards you fine folks– and people that want to be like you. Notice I didn’t say me. I’m still working on that part.
Fleshing out a character is nine parts demonstration, and one part bullshit. The bullshit I speak of is every newbie’s favorite tool– explication. I’m ignoring that part and skipping straight to the naughty bits that let you look inside the skull: the words coming out of that character’s mouth.
We’ve all heard the tired fucking Show/Tell advice, and yes– we can learn much about a character based on what they do and how. That said, there are things you can do with a character’s dialogue that gives insight that description and demonstration cannot. I love dialogue for this reason above all else, and it’s a rarity that I go more than a page or two without it.
Dialogue is one of the easiest things to fuck up. Just because you’ve written inside quotations with perfect grammar does not guarantee that it sounds like it came out of someone’s mouth. In fact, there’s the beauty of dialogue– you can fuck with grammar, spelling, whatever! If you’re inside quotation marks, you can abuse pretty much everything to have the character flesh themselves out for you. Basic, yes, but also dern useful.
Protip segue aside, the point is: dialogue should sound spoken. The operand fucking term here is sound– and yes, I’m telling you to speak your dialogue while you’re editing. Some famous writer has been quoted to that effect, but fucked if I remember who it was. (Can someone please comment with the author? This is earworm-level bugging me.) He was 100% spot on, in a very literal sense.
Read it out loud, and don’t fucking lie to yourself. Go back to what you’ve written a few days later, drunk, and try it again. See if it sounds like a bag of dicks.
If it does, fix it on the spot as drunk you desires. Talk it out. Save it into a different file name and go on with your bad self. When you sober up, read them both out loud again and let your ears tell you which passage sounds better.
Try it. You might be surprised.