Dogs and Dialogue

My husband and I were watching the sheepdog trials at the Scottish Games, and we started riffing on imagined conversations between the dogs and the sheep. It suddenly occurred to me that I could use this technique if I find myself stuck writing dialogue for my characters. While I love writing dialogue, I can become so focused on what I want to say that I forget I’m not the one speaking. It’s my character speaking, and she has her own voice. Getting out of my own head can be a challenge, but if I were to take a few minutes to focus on the animals around me, I might be able to hear my character’s voice again.

Dogs are great animals to watch because their faces are so expressive, but other animals will work. We’ve got crows and squirrels in the neighborhood that put on quite the show when they feel like it. The hummingbirds aren’t so interesting – pretty, yes, but too results-driven. The mourning doves, on the other hand, are a real hoot. They raise their young in our back yard so you would think they’d stop wasting their energy trying to divert my attention from them. If I haven’t eaten a single one of their young for the last twenty years, why would I start now? Nevertheless, every time they see me they start their script: “Oh, woe is me, I’m a poor wounded bird. Don’t look in the corner, look at me. Oops, guess I wasn’t wounded after all.”

The next time you find your voice seeping into your character’s dialogue, try to break that cycle by finding the voice of the animals you see around you. You can start by captioning the photo above of my brother Glenn and me and Daisy the dog.

Luck and wisdom!