Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Four Writing Tips for Better Dialog
So, here's the thing, you need strong, tight, and revealing dialog. How to accomplish that?
I'm on a tight schedule today, with a lot to accomplish in addition to this blog post so I'm going to spell it out quickly and tightly; a few tips to get you going.
1. Keep it tight and focused. Hemingway was big on this. He didn't like superfluous chit chat so he got right down to it. Read The Sun Also Rises if you don't believe me. And, as an example:
Jack walked into the room, exhausted, but alert. Plainly something had set him off. He nodded to Helen.
"You want to go for a ride?" he asked.
"No," Helen snapped.
"Because it would be with you."
"And that's bad because...?"
Okay, tight dialog advances your story and moves it along swiftly. We know here Helen is either angry with Jack who's also ticked off or she just doesn't like him. Jack's maybe trying to score points but to what end? or he's about to kidnap Helen. In this case we see the beginnings of conflict - good! Where it goes depends on your story.
Keep it tight, keep it focused.
2. Speaking of conflict - your dialog can really heat it up. Another example:
Emil vaulted the fence, jogged across the dew-dampened grass and towered over Sam where he lay dazed, sprawled on the ground.
"What the hell did you do to him?"
"Oh, crap," Sam muttered rolling to his knees.
"Tell me! Where is he? You're the only one who would know!"
Sam'd seen Emil going off before, but this was crazy, even by his standards.
"What are you talking about? Who?"
3. When creating scenes with dialog keep your speaker tags to a minimum.
You'll notice in the examples above that there are few 'tags'. There was a 'sam muttered', a 'he asked'. Leave off the more colorful tags unless there is a real hard core reason to use one, or use them very sparingly if you must. Most of the pros usually use simple ones such as 'said, asked, answered' and the like. Your story hinges on the strength of your writing not on multiple, colorful dialog tags.
4. When you create a solid block of dialog that is doing its job you don't need a whole lot of gestures or expressions from your characters. It isn't necessary for them to 'frown,' give an 'amazed stare,' 'pout' or generally gesticulate. Set your scene - you don't need stage direction as in a play - and you're off. Occasionally a bit of 'business' is needed intertwined with the dialog to clarify and move the scene forward, but keep it tight and don't allow the window dressing to overwhelm the exchange between your characters.
That's it for this round - hope you found the tips helpful. Read a few books from the 'greats' in the genre you want to write for. You'll find plenty more examples of what I'm saying here.