Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Creating Great Dialog
Dialog is a very important part of a writer's bag of tricks and as such it's important to avoid the stilted and cliched. Dialog has to sound like natuarl speech and take a scene one step further down the story road or reveal more about your characters. A character standing around expounding on a subject does not meet any of those goals, neither does a character who explains the plot to another character or one character greeting another by name just to identify the second character unless perhaps that character is a used car salesman.
So, how can the writer improve the dialog that spills from his or her fingers onto the keypad and up onto the computer screen?
Well, for one thing, try to avoid dialog tags like, he shouted, she cried, he stammered or hedged, she demanded or opined. There are moments when one of these can be a good idea, but use should be infrequent or you stand a good chance of annoying yoru reader. Grab a book you've read and enjoyed and read a few pages at random. Focus on the dialog and how it was handled. See some glaring differences between how you've written yours and how the one you liked to read did it? That's not to say you should copy someone else's style, but it can stand as a good starting point to understanding dialog structure.
If you stop and think about it, people actually say less t than they think they do. Most of us speak in incomplete sentences, and answers to questions are often very short. Listen to people speak in public, check out they way they talk and their delivery. You might even write some down to get a real feel for it. Think about how you can set the scene so that the dialog would stand on its own without any kind of tags at all.
One great master of this is author Dean Koontz. Frequently his dialog will go on for line after line without interruption by tags or description and yet you, the reader, are totally aware of who is speaking at all times and their state of mind. There are many writers who can do the same. Practice and you'll be one of them.
Try this. Write a scene wherein you write the dialog without using any tags of any kind. Write only the exchange of dialog between characters. Then go back and fill in the scene so that the dialog falls naturally into place, the dialog furthering the action with an absolute minimum of tags such as said or asked.
You can also watch or even record a favorite TV show or movie and analyze how the dialog flows with the scene to help you see where you can eliminate modifiers like muttered, announced, screamed or spat.
Dialog is key to your book, an integral part of the story, not a separate tool to explain what's going on. Hone the skill and show off your craft.