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Test Your Children's Book Dialogue by Reading It Out Loud

The best test of whether or not your children's book's dialogue is working is to listen to someone else read it back to you. When you hear your dialogue read aloud, pay attention and ask yourself:

  • Do the child characters sound like children? If they consistently speak in complete sentences or use strings of huge words, you probably have your English professor in mind and not a child. Shorten sentences. Add a mild stutter. Fill in some blanks between speech with brief descriptions of telling body language and facial expressions.

  • Do the characters sound different from one another? If not, you need to listen to how various people speak and try to capture those differences. And revisit that character’s speech section in her character bible to see if you are remaining true to your original idea of how she actually speaks.

  • Is the speech wordy or to the point? If wordy, chances are you have too many adjectives and are describing too much. Shorten. Hone. Tighten. Make better, more precise word choices.

  • Is the emotion clear from the words chosen? If not, try to be more precise with your choice of words, making each one count; keep your thesaurus within reach. Go back to your character bible. Between important speakers’ lines, add occasional, brief descriptions of their revealing facial expressions or body movements.

  • Does your main character have a strong voice? Does he sound interesting and unique? If not, you may want to reexamine his personality and see what special speech patterns or tone of voice may make him more compelling. Perhaps you do not know him well enough.

  • How does each piece of dialogue move the story forward or further embellish a character? If it doesn’t, sayonara, baby!

Dialogue is never easy for a new writer. But you can write much better dialogue with practice and determination. And when in doubt about a particular piece, leave it out.

The great thing about writing dialogue is that on paper you have time to craft the ultimate witty comebacks, astute questions, and on-target answers (unlike in real life). On paper, you can make your characters sound better than anyone else.

So, for all those times you went home cursing yourself for failing to deliver that perfect retort — the one that came to you on your way home — consider writing books as your revenge and make those characters talk pretty.

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