LET’S TALK – TUESDAY WRITING TIPS ON DIALOGUE

This week, I’ve been asked to present two workshops to Year 7-9 students about dialogue and how it can be used to add interest and meaning to a piece of writing.

The more I thought about the topic the more I realised that with the advent of social networking, dialogue has changed. It has been shortened, colloquialised and now it comes in a variety of new forms.

The options open to a writer to present dialogue used to limited to inclusion as part of the narrative or as a reported telephone conversation.

In addition to those mediums we now have

  • Texting,
  • Chat room conversations,
  • Facebook and other social media posts,
  • Twitter, where there are random conversations going on at the same time and you choose which one/ones you want to be part of
  • Comment streams on blogs
  • Blog posts that respond to other.
  • So it seems that in spite of the fact that we might be spending more time on our computers we might actually be conversing more.

To me, there are three things to think about with modern dialogue.

1.            The Words your characters speak

These need to reflect the character of the person talking. So you need to know how your character would talk. Listen to conversations (in a polite, non-obtrusive way), even write favourite phrases in a notebook. Watch television interviews. See if you can pick the difference between the words used by a 19 year-old new recruit and their sixty-year-old coach talking about the same football game.

The words your characters speak need to impart important information and they must move your story along. For example, two characters having a conversation about a television show probably won’t be relevant to your story or interesting to the reader unless it gives clues to something in the plot or reveals something important about the characters involved.

2.            Body language and action

Watch people – see how they respond to conversation. It’s very rare that a conversation takes place and the people involved sit there not moving. People pace while they are talking, they flick their hair, bite their lip, frown, pause, raise an eyebrow, gesture with their hands, blink, turn away, walk away, fidget, move, pout, interrupt, sniff, get angry etc. These are the things that complement the words being spoken – they help show the sort of person that your character is and the situation they are in.

How people act and react while they are talking will depend on the nature of the conversation – what it’s about, where it takes place, who is involved.

3.            Conversation format

So as well as the words themselves, and the body language and actions that accompany them, the interrupted and diverse streams that can take place in a modern conversation need to be represented in how you present your dialogue.

Here’s a short example of chat room conversation from my current Work in Progress: (Sorrysister is my main character)

[Sorrysister]                        I think Mindy was murdered.

I don’t know what else to say.

[Ableman]                             The a-hole next door tried to kill my dog, Neptune once.

[Slater]                                    Gotta go. I’m starving.

>>Slater has left channel#teenangst<<

>>Frankiemoo has logged onto channel#teenangst<<

[Frankiemoo:]                        What’s happening guys?

[Ableman]                                How come you think she was murdered?

[Frankiemoo]                          Who was murdered?

[Sorrysister]                             My sister.

How many times am I going to have to go through it all again? Can’t these guys scroll through older posts to find out the topic?

[Frankiemoo]                         Sucks about your sister.

Angie has logged on to channel#teenangst

[Maggie]                                   Sorrysister, how do you know that’s what happened to her?

[Angie]                                      What happened?

When writing dialogue, think about the medium you are using and what you are trying to achieve. Well written dialogue can bring your story to life. It’s a great way to turn ‘telling’ into ‘showing’ and it can reveal so much important and interesting information to the reader.

I’d love to hear how you use dialogue to tell your stories. Are there other formats I haven’t mentioned? Feel free to share your tips and feedback in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee


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12 thoughts on “LET’S TALK – TUESDAY WRITING TIPS ON DIALOGUE

  1. Hi Dee,
    I took a workshop on dialogue for a writers’ group and learnt a lot myself in the process- still have the notes if you’d like to see- it is a way of moving plot along and also developing your characters’ individual personality.

  2. Thanks Dee. Love this blog.
    There are interesting developments afoot in the teenage world, though. It seems that abbreviations are not as ‘in’ as they used to be. A comment I overheard recently: ‘If you can’t put the effort in to write the full word, what sort of friend are you?’

  3. Great post Dee. Completely agree – particularly with point 2, a comment that I’m frequently making in my real (as opposed to virtual) writers critique group. People don’t seem to make nearly enough use of body language, actions, character’s clothing, the props around them (whether inside or out), the lighting, sounds etc, etc. These things aren’t just important in movies. They can “show” so much about the period in which you are writing, the time of year, the time of day, the weather, the mood – whatever – without actually telling. It’s also a potentially great way to avoid the ‘talking heads’ scenario. Cheers, Scott.

  4. Thanks, Jo,

    I do know what you mean about abbreviations in the teen world. I have an almost 15 yo who doesn’t use them. I used the text thing to illustrate a point. I think people still use “8” a lot and lose the vowels, but mostly the conversation is quite clear. Love that comment you overheard. What a classic!:)

    Thanks for dropping in your lovely comment about my blog.

    Dee:)

  5. Hi Lorraine,

    Thanks for your offer. Would love to see your notes. Are you able to email them? I’m always open to new ideas and the different ways that people present them.

    Great dialogue really lifts a story doesn’t it?

    Thanks again. Really appreciate your offer.

    Dee:)

  6. Great dialogue does more than lift a story. That’s where the dilemma comes. I once read the assertion that the entire story can be told through dialogue alone: an interesting challenge. Especially when I believe strongly, as you do, in painting a complete picture, showing not telling. Sometimes descriptions of surroundings and people’s behavior / reactions are critical signs that also move the story on… : )

  7. Great post! I always like reading dialogue in books.
    I suppose it’s not what you say, but how you say it with accompanying actions in a sense.
    Sometimes I tend to use dialogue as info dumps, and have to go back and check.
    Lucky I’ve got a great crit partner 🙂
    Alison

  8. Thanks, Alison,

    I’m pretty happy with my crit partner too:)

    I do agree with you about dialogue and it not always being about the words. Sometimes what a character doesn’t say tells the reader as much as what they do say. Dialogue has to work hard.

    Dee:)

  9. Hi Dee,
    Great blog on dialogue especially liked you including body language and action.
    In the very early stages of my writing, I completed a course in dialogue, resulting that I added “Too Much ” dialogue to my manuscripts.
    I’m now more minimalistic with dialogue, adding only when it take the characters and plot forward.

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