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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EDITING LANGUAGE AND DIALOGUE – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

Last week we looked at editing the shape of your novel http://wp.me/ppiTq-G1 and today we’re looking at a language and dialogue. Is every word doing the work it should? Have you chosen the strongest language and dialogue for your story?

Language is what draws your reader into the novel. It’s what tells them the kind of person your character is and where they come from. For example, if your character is a decisive person they would ‘stride’, if they are casual, they might ‘amble’ and if they are timid, they might ‘creep’.

Just by changing one simple word you can convey a lot about your character.

Try and minimise the use of words like ‘was’ and also those ending in ‘ing’ as these will slow the pacing of your novel down.

I discussed in last week’s post about how it’s possible to have a favourite letter that you unconsciously start a lot of your character’s names with. The same goes for words. I find myself using some of the same words far too much – particularly words like look and nod and grin.

So when I’m editing my novel, I do a ‘search’ for these words and every time I come across one, I ask myself,

“Is this the best word I could be using here? Is this the best way to write this piece or have I fallen into the trap of lazy writing?”

Writing can be plain hard work – fun but plain hard work. Sometimes you have to push yourself harder to make your writing sing. Close enough isn’t good enough. If you instinctively feel that a passage could be stronger, then ignore the slack voice that says, “It’s just one paragraph”. Rewrite it. You never know, it could be this beautiful new piece of writing that convinces an agent or publisher to take on your work.

When you’re in the language and dialogue phase of editing, your thesaurus is your best friend. Keep it close to you and make it work hard.

BE SPECIFIC

Your writing will be much more powerful if you are specific in your description. Instead of ‘Jessica walked her dog’, think about what sort of dog it was. This can tell us a lot about Jessica and her circumstances.

If she is walking a poodle, the reader would have a completely different impression of the sort of person she is than if she was walking a greyhound or a bull mastiff. Perhaps she is walking a dark brown, Cashmere x goat. What does that tell us about her?

USE STRONGER LANGUAGE

  1. Another one of my bad habits is to use qualifiers. For example, ‘so’ disappointed or  ‘really’ angry. You don’t need the ‘so’ or the ‘really’. In fact your writing will be much stronger without them.
  2. Also try to remove unnecessary words. For example, Instead of “She started to walk down the path”, just say, “She walked down the path.” Try not to use tautologys – where you are saying the same thing twice using two different words. For example, “She glanced quickly”. You don’t need the word, “quickly” because a glance by definition is quick.
  3. Use the strongest most appropriate words you can think of. “Shattered’ gives the reader a much stronger impression of what happened than ‘broke’.
  4. Create word pictures by using interesting language, similes and metaphors – all your images don’t have to be beautiful, they just have to create a strong visual impression for the reader. For example, “She was hotter than a pig on a spit roast”. A phrase like this not only shows you the extent of her discomfort but it shows you how the character thinks – that she has a sense of humour.
  5. Show don’t tell. Instead of telling the reader about something that just happened, show it occurring. For example, instead of “Jogging gave Simon asthma,” you could say something like, “As Simon jogged, his chest tightened until his breathing came in thin, shallow bursts.
  6. Read your manuscript aloud and this will help you pick up where you have used repetitive words or phrases.

IMPROVE DIALOGUE

Try and avoid ‘talking heads’ where you have large sections of text but nothing is happening. Watch people talking and you will see that they rarely sit or stand still while they speak. They gesture with their hands, they move, they have facial expressions, they do things while they talk. Including actions and action in your dialogue scenes will make them more realistic.

Listening to people talking is a great way of learning to write authentic, interesting dialogue. Remember that your dialogue has to divulge essential information, move the story forward or reveal character. If it’s not doing at least one of these things, then it probably shouldn’t be there.

Take care in choosing the words that your characters speak – make sure they are consistent with ‘voice’ and personality.

Do you find dialogue hard to write or do tend to use repetitive words in your writing. Feel free to tell us about it in the comments section of this post. I’d love to hear what your ‘favourites’ are, as well as any tips you have about using strong language and dialogue.

Happy Writing:)

Dee