I’ve been going through some of my saved/bookmarked pages, and I came across this one from April Hamilton from back in July 2011. It’s a great summary of some problems that newbie writers (like me) have with dialogue (Indie Author: 6 Dialogue Traps To Avoid).
So it mentions that newbies often have the characters talking the same way i.e. with the same “voice”, which doesn’t happen in real life and is really boring to read. I’m not sure I like her examples of fixing it, as it starts to sound a bit cliché to have 20-somethings or ex-military people talk like caricatures, but it can give flavour to their voice. Equally, newbies often go for melodramatic scenes that are tripe for soap operas, or heavy on the exposition dump. And I like the overall premise of “when in doubt, read it out loud”. If it sounds wrong, it probably is.
However, I’m not sold on the third trap related to newbies not differentiating enough between men and women. Here’s the excerpt:
In the masculine, words are used to accomplish some goal. The goal is usually imparting necessary—and that word, “necessary”, is key here—information, but it can also be to quickly size up a person or situation, or to establish or reinforce the pecking order (e.g., teasing). Generally speaking, believable masculine characters talk less than feminine characters, and get to the point pretty quickly.
With feminine characters, a given conversation need not have an intrinsic point: the point of the conversation may simply be for the feminine characters to hear and be heard, and feel validated by one another as a result. But having said that, I’d caution against too much mutual navel-gazing on the part of your feminine characters, lest you bore your readers.
That is overly-simplistic in my view and belies people who have great success going the opposite way — Robert B. Parker’s Spenser for Hire is very direct in terms of actions, but he also has long conversations of introspection with his psychologist girlfriend. Equally, Susan Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone never has conversations that are about being heard. For me, I think the advice is more around distinctive voice…while there is a risk of newbies making their female characters sound like men or men like women, a greater risk is they start making them sound like caricatures or stereotypes instead. Dialogue should move the plot along, not just give an excuse for navel-gazing or the author a chance for social commentary or self-therapy. If you sprinkle some of the other elements moderately in to give them a distinctive voice, it usually reads better IMHO.
In the meantime, I liked the article…