Thursday, February 25, 2010

What About WritingThe Dialog?

I'm supposed to be working on my novel and, well, actually I am as I write this.  I got to thinking about dialog and what it adds to your story and how to use it.   Usually these thoughts and musing come to me when I'm writing something - I think it's a way of procrastinating - but still there's validity to the thought process.

So here are some thoughts from that process. I'm going to presume that at this stage - meaning you're actually writing things, stories, etc., that you have the basics on punctuation so I'm going to skip over that.  If you don't get punctuation then do some research and get that under you belt.  I often recommend the slim little volume by Karen Elizabeth Gordon called The New Well-Tempered Sentence.  And no, I won't make any money off it if you buy it.    You can also probably find it in a library, or one similar.

But, enough of that, on to the creative part.

To make your dialog sound real you have to write like people talk.  As an example, in real life people don't usually say, "I will not..."  Mostly they say, "I won't..."  They aren't usually so formal as to say, "It is not," but are more likely to say, "It isn't."  Maybe even, "It ain't."

Think, too, about how people relate to one another in conversation.  Most of the time it's all we can to do to get a whole sentence out before a friend, relative or total stranger interrupts.  So try to keep dialog short.  If you need to do a longer stretch, a speech so to speak, experiment with breaking it up with action or the character's own inner thoughts, or a sudden change in the weather -- something!

Examine some of the books you read that you enjoy. Focus on the dialog.  Frequently a new writer will make the mistake of frequently embellishing dialog with John murmured, Mary snapped, Sam reiterated, or some other tag.  Many times a simple "he said or she said" is the perfect tag.  Or none at all.  Sometimes the author will emphasize what a character says with some simple action.  For example:  "Are you crazy?"  Nick turned and slammed the door.   From that you know who's speaking and you know he's ticked off. 

Notice, too,  how many books now have dialog exchange between characters with no identifying tags at all.  It works well for the short haul, just don't make it so long your reader can'r remember who started and who's saying what. 

Oh, and don't use dialog just for the heck of it to fill space.  It should perform a function.  Move your story forward, give us some insight into the characters and their lives, perhaps forwarn us about something coming down the road. Dialog isn't just a pulp packer, something to add to the word count.  It's true that in real life we even have conversations that are little more than that, but don't do it in a novel or you'll bore your readers to sleep.

Those are just a few hints.  Think about how you speak.  Think about accents and speech patterns.  Some peole have speech impediments, a stutter, an unusual accent.  Some speak crisply and swift, others mumble.  A drunk may slur speech, a Harvard graduate speak from a very educated place.  A little goes a long way on those counts but some gives color to your writing and your story and can help define characters.

If you want to get more in depth try exercisese to improve your dialog.  A nice, helpful site with some great ideas to help you improve that dialog.   Watch out for those writers' pitfalls an dgo for it. 

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