Friday, April 1, 2011

Employing Dialogue

For some writers, dialogue is the tricky part, while others see it as the easy part.
Here are some tips that I found useful.

- Listen to people talk
Not necessarily what they’re saying, but how they’re saying it. As in, how do they react, how often do they interrupt each other and so on.

- Dialogue in fiction should not be transcriptions of real speech
When we talk, we waste a lot of time on saying non significant things, like small talk. In fiction, your dialogue should not include the obvious things as much, such as:
“How are you?”
“I’m good, and you?”
This is pretty boring. Try to cut out the parts that do not further your plot or characters.

- Say it out loud
Read your dialogue out loud. People might look at you funny, but it actually works. By hearing the words, it’s easier to figure out if something sounds unnatural since your ear is used to natural dialogue coming from, you know, real people. Some people even suggest acting it out, as in switching positions every time another character speaks.

- Read other people’s dialogue
Learn from the best. Pull out your favourite novel and see how the author managed to pull off dialogue so efficiently.

- Use conflict to make it interesting
Conflict does not necessarily mean arguments. I will quote examples from Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction (an excellent book by the way). Instead of writing:
Would you like some sugar for your tea?”, write,
I suppose you’d like some sugar for your tea? Never mind. Of course you do. Your type always does.”
By doing this, you create tension, and tension is the tool that allows you to keep the reader reading.

- Sometimes words aren’t necessary
Silence can characterise very effectively. Put in pauses, breaks, things that your character does that reveals something about him or her. Having someone hesitate before answering a question can covertly suggest a lie or a suspicion about the one who asked the question.

- Find each character’s voice
Some people can just jump into the skin of a character and play the part. When you write dialogue, you have to limit your own voice and write as if you were the character that is speaking. In fact, each character should talk in their own way to such an extent that you can write dialogue without any tags and still know who said what.
Education, class, and even gender can affect the way that someone speaks. Listening and reading can help you with figuring out the differences between manners of speaking.

- Said bookisms
Avoid using weird dialogue tags like hissed, interjected, said angrily and so on. This distracts the reader, while a simple said would have done the same thing. By using the right words in the speech (and maybe even description), you should be able to show that someone is angry, instead of telling readers that he said it angrily.

That’s it, I think. Feel free to add any tips you use/know of or disagree with me in the comments.

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