Today is the Gothic Day of Creation over at Romancing the Gothic project, with so much good stuff going on! I kicked us off with a dialogue workshop, and if you missed it, here are some highlights for you…
Choose your characters for the workshop. You need Character A and B. Pick a Gothic trope to form the basis of their discussion, drop them into a setting and let one character have a piece of information that the other one needs to know.
Consider dialect, idioms and accents and build them into your worldbuilding for the scene, the character backstory, and be aware of not appropriating the modes of speech used by minority groups you do not belong to.
Resources can include dialect dictionaries and YouTube recordings of extinct or dying or rare accents and dialect. I’ve used www.sussexhistory.co.uk/sussex-dialect/Sussex-dialect.html which you can buy as a hard copy but also is free here online. Dialect dictionaries are great because some of them – like this one – tell you origins of the words and idioms (they may not be correct in all cases but they give a good flavour of the dialect, etymology and perceptions of it at the time the dialect dictionary was compiled).
- What points of contact does your world have?
- Who mixes with whom?
- How does the history of your character’s home affect their vocabulary and speech patterns?
- Do other characters understand them all the time?
- Do your characters start picking up each other’s words and phrases?
- When do your characters code-switch? Under what circumstances do your characters slip into a different accent to their normal one and why?
Dialect can be used as a marker of class and this is not always a good thing. It can intersect with other kinds of prejudices, and betray complicated dynamics among your characters if they are from different – or even the same – socio-cultural/religious/political/ethnic background.
Decide whether the two characters you picked are from the same or different kind of background, and how this will translate into the dialogue. What bundle of preconceptions and stereotypes accompany their first impressions of each other and how do their accents/dialects play into this?
Subversive dialogue! Language is as much about the artful failure to communicate as it is about communication… How can you play with constructed dialects/actual ones, riddles, idioms etc, so that the characters reveal everything the protagonist needs to know, but in such a way that the protagonist does not immediately understand they now have all the information they need? The unraveling of meaning can then be part of the central mystery. It can also add tension if the reader understands before the protagonist does.
Pick Character A or B to impart some info to the other one. How are they going to do it and will B understand?
Go over your dialogue and read it out loud. How do you render pauses, repeated words (when people stumble or need time to think), words they rely on to fill gaps as they think like “um”, “er”, or “like”, or a swear word, and so on? What about emphasis – words or individual syllables? How can you represent this on the page?
Exercise for Homework: find a short video or soundbite of people speaking naturally. Transcribe it as closely as you can, with all the pauses, repeated words, punctuation to represent their syntax and rhythm of speech, etc. Don’t correct errors like mispronounciation or idioms that they get wrong. This might give you ideas around how to transpose this onto fictional characters in your own writing.
If you enjoyed my workshop or like these tips, feel free to buy me a coffee!