I’ve entered a number of writing contests through the years and the one consistent comment I received was that my dialogue was stilted or rough. I couldn’t understand why my characters speech didn’t come out like I wanted – natural and smooth. What was I doing wrong or not doing? Was I trying too hard or was it that I didn’tknow my characters well enough?Probably both.
The most terrifying part of this problem was that my books were made up of eighty percent dialogue. If I ever wanted to be a published author I had to learn to write quality dialogue. I refused to let panic seep in. Bowing my back and flexing my fingers, I became determined to conquer my characters’ conversational issues.
My focus became learning to write sterling dialogue. I took classes at conferences to gather hints on how to improve. I dissected authors’ works that I enjoyed to see want they did to make their dialogue shine. I pored over articles on writing dialogue. By doing all of the above I began to think about the elements I found appealing. I liked when my characters spoke incontractions. They sounded more natural. Most people don’t speak in complete sentences. So fragments within dialogue works for me. I also discovered a few more things I needed to consider.
I had to know my characters inside and out, in order to know how each of them would react in a situation. Would the hero say something funny to break the tension when he was uncomfortable about sharing his feelings? Would the heroine defend her beliefs even when she’d been shown that she might be wrong? No matter what occurred in the story, I had to stay in character, in their head.
I had to remember that women say twice as many, maybe three times as many words as a man. If a woman is asked how she is feeling, she might say, “Just great, never better. I had a great night’s sleep last night.” Now, the man will answer the question with, “Fine.” Even then the word might be mumbled. I realized the importance of picking my words for the hero carefully and making them work hard, because I only got to use a few of them.
I have to remind myself to keep the dialogue sharp and to the point. Sometimes you have to pass up the everyday “hey, how are you” and go straight into conversation. This is most difficult after a scene change or when trying to write a phone conversation. The secret to making the scene change work is to make the next scene active so that the characters have to jump right in and start speaking. As for the phone conversation, I suggest not writing them.
The most important lesson I learned was to keep writing, practicing. My dialogue would never be bragged on unless I kept pushing toward improvement. My goal was make mydialogue smart, pithy, and memorable.
More recently I’ve started hearing, “I love your dialogue. The way your voice comes through". Best of all those words came from my editor which makes them even sweeter.
This is a sample of what I’ve learned about dialogue:
‘You’re certainly braver than most of the visiting doctors we get. I’ve gotten so used to eating like the natives I don’t know that I’d even want to have a steak if offered one.’
‘I know a wonderful little hole-in-the-wall near Fennel Hall where they grill the most fantastic steaks. You visit the next time you’re in the States and I’ll take you. I think you’ll be more than tempted.’
‘I don’t get home often. When I do I don’t travel much.’
‘It’s just an invitation between friends, not a binding trade agreement between two countries.’
She snorted. ‘Am I that uptight?’
‘Maybe. But you’ve had a long day. With some rest you should be the same efficient and in-control person you’ve always been.’
‘I don’t mind the efficient description but I’m not sure in control is a compliment.’
If you’re interested in readingmore of my dialogue check out my book Heart Surgeon, Hero…Husband?
Discovering her tiny son desperately needs a new heart terrifies Hannah Quinn – especially when she realizes ex-flame Scott McIntyre is the skilled surgeon in charge of the transplant. Entrusting her baby to Scott’s miracle-working hands is one thing, but whether Hannah’s own heart will survive Scott’s devastating charm intact is quite another…
*Edited by Teresa Crumpton*