Today's the release day for Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki's wonderfully bittersweet graphic novel, This One Summer (check out the book report here). And we're pleased as punch to have Mariko stop by the FYA lockers with some insight on dialogue. Take it away, Mariko!
by Mariko Tamaki
I’m a huge fan of talk.
To me, having a sense of how your characters talk, both their interior monologue and the way they speak with the various kinds of people in their world, is key to the construction of both character and story.
I first became obsessed with talk in high school, listening to and watching various stand up comedians, including Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner, later Eddie Izzard and so on.
Later on, studying Linguistics at York University and the University of Toronto, I became relatively obsessed with the detail of talk. With the “ums” and “errs” of conversation, with the way people ended and started conversations, with the difference between texts and talk in person, and so on. Studying linguistics got me into the logistics of talk, into thinking it as something not just aesthetic, but as an action. Like how much talk is not just what you say but what you’re trying to do, something as nuanced as flirting or, just as complicated, ending a conversation with someone who won’t stop talking.
I don’t think it’s necessary to become obsessed with these things to write good dialogue.
Part of writing good dialogue is acquainting yourself with the dialogue of other great writers, which means paying attention to books, TV and film. Part of good dialogue and monologue is a matter of paying attention to the talk around you, which is basically what linguistics is, a detailed documentation of the geography of talk.
And, yes, this is me officially suggesting that you, as writers, or just as talk fans, to act as amateur spies. Listen to people on buses, at the mall, at your local coffee shop. Note, it’s okay as long as you're not constantly eavesdropping on the same person, which is what we call stalking.
Get a sense of how people talk, trying to keep that in your head when your characters start talking on the page, is the challenge of writing dialogue. And it’s a good one.
Write a monologue in which your main character describes something that they LOVE. Like, LOVE. Not just “likes” or “sort of enjoys.” The object of love can be a person, place, or thing. You can use the word “love,” in this assignment, but look for other options (everything from “adores” to “goes crazy for”). Consider your character’s personality in your lexical and tonal choices here. Is your character someone who can readily admit to loving something? Is he/she someone who bubbles over with adoration, or would he/she be cautious about revealing this information. What does that sound like?
Thanks for stopping by, Mariko! Check out the rest of the blog tour for This One Summer here.