It’s amazing that people ever manage to talk.
Ever listened to conversations? I mean really listened? Half the time, you’d swear that the people involved aren’t even talking about the same thing. They wander, repeat themselves, subtly try to shift the conversation back to their own concerns, forget what they were about to say…
Considering that we’re a species that prizes communication, I don’t know how we get anything done.
But in fiction it’s different.* In fiction, people are on point. Not so much that they’re Conversation Robots**, but it’s a little more controlled. And it has to be; fiction, like spice, must flow.
One way you can do that is to make your character’s voices distinctive. You should know it’s them talking without a dialogue tag; leave out the “he said, she said, it said” and you’d still have a pretty good idea of who was speaking. It’s not all about accents, either, though that can play a part. Better way to get there is to use grammar and sentence structure. Which is what an accent really is, but never mind that. Also: try using distinctive words. I know people who use ‘listen’***, ‘massive’, ‘really’, and ‘you see’ more than most. Kind of like verbal tics.
A great way to polish this skill? Poach from your friends. Because you talk to them on a regular basis, you’re more likely to notice distinctive speech patterns. For example, if someone wanted to imitate me, they’d have to drop pronouns at the beginning of a sentence. “Just the way things are” instead of “It’s just the way things are.”**** And swear. More swearing.
Your Monday Challenge: write two characters talking—or more than two, if you’re feeling ambitious—with no dialogue tags. Make their voices as distinctive as possible so that the tags aren’t needed. You should not get the speakers confused with each other. I don’t care what they talk about—death, taxes, who ate all the snacks, the problem with these love-lorn robots all over the place—but make sure they talk as themselves.
You have your marching orders. Dismissed. *Salutes*
*Most of the time. There are authors who use the hyper-realistic model of conversations, but it’s rarely pulled off well. Usually it just confuses the reader. Conversations in fiction are conversations distilled.
**Like Conversation Hearts, but more metal-ly. DOES THAT UNIT FEEL POSITIVELY TOWARD THIS UNIT QUERY.
***Like that goddamn fairy in Legend of Zelda.
****What can I say? I like efficiency.