Overdoing Dialogue Quirks

“Hey, girl,” the new receptionist at the salon greeted me as I pulled my wallet out to pay for my haircut. “You look great, girl,” she said as I handed her my credit card. “Can I help you with any product, girl?”

I almost wanted her to call me “ma’am.” I am old enough to be her mother–without having made poor choices in high school, or even college. And the term “girl” reminds me too much of all the terrible jobs I worked after being a college “woman” for four years.

One of the stylists walked behind the front desk and the receptionist immediately said, “What can I do for you, girl?” As I walked down the stairs, she called out, “See ya later, girl!”

That receptionist reminded me of a first draft character: too much of a good thing.

I often give my characters dialogue quirks to differentiate them from others in the story, to make them unique, to show personality, to create voice. Inevitably when I read through my rough draft, I realize that I’ve overdone those quirks. I find the snowboarder saying “dude” every time he speaks. “OMG!” exclaims the BFF on every single page. And then there’s the word “like” — Oh, I, like, use that word, like, all the time in my first draft dialogue.

Dialogue quirks are best used sparingly–a sprinkle here, a sprinkle there, as in ten pages later. I have to admit the first time the receptionist used the word “girl,” I thought, Ooh. Interesting dialogue quirk, I’m going to write that down when I get to my car. But after the third mention, I only wanted to revise her speech like overdone first draft dialogue!