Dialogue. Webster’s defines dialogue as “a written composition in which two or more characters are represented as conversing.” The definition may sound convoluted (as most are), but how hard can dialogue be, right? I mean, we talk all the time. It shouldn’t be that hard to put what we say onto paper, can it? Sometimes it’s as easy as picking up a pencil. Other times, well, writers can spend endless amounts of time trying to perfect why and how our characters are speaking.
In my post today, I’m going to share some information about writing dialogue that’s helped me. I know there are always exceptions, but in general, these bits have aided me when putting conversations onto the proverbial paper.
First, when should you write dialogue in your story? In my opinion, as often as you can. When characters speak, readers tend to sit up and take notice. The story becomes engaging and the plot flies by as we grasp onto these tail-strings and enjoy the ride. Dialogue is powerful. Through dialogue, a writer can hone in on how a character is feeling, how he is reacting, and even how he may respond to another.
Next, how to write dialogue? There are entire books on this topic. There is simply too much information to squeeze into a blog post. I’m going to highlight a few points that have helped me.
Listen and observe. This is absolutely number one. In real life, become an intentional eavesdropper. Actively listen to other’s conversations. Disclaimer – this is in the name of your writing only; eavesdrop responsibly. Don’t make yourself obvious or rude, but listen to the words people use, their interactions, their tone. Every emotion in existence can be translated through how a person speaks. The point of a writer is to capture these emotions. Here’s an exercise: Go to the mall with a notebook and pen. Sit at the food court and open your ears. Write down the dialogue you hear. If you’re uncomfortable with this, do it the next time you’re watching a movie at home. The trick - don’t look at the people talking. Use your ears. And when you’re jotting down their words, don’t worry about grammar. Don’t interfere or stop the conversation. If you miss words, skip them and keep going. After a few minutes, when your hand begins to cramp, stop, and think about how they spoke. Could you have written a conversation similar to what you heard? Where are the nuances? Where is information given and where were you lost because of shared past knowledge you didn’t know? You are the reader to their story. When next you write, think about the way your characters interact. For example, are they conversing naturally?
Make your characters talk to each other. When you’re writing a scene that has more than one person in it, don’t let them think. Okay, they have to think. What I mean is, make your people use their words -- out loud. If Joe is standing in front of Jane, don’t have her think, I wonder why he never comes by anymore? Absolutely not. Make her speak up and say, “Joe, why don’t you come over anymore?” This is the same if your character is by herself. If you find you are writing a lot of thoughtful questions for Jane when Joe is not around, stop and put her in a situation where she has to talk to Joe.
Write your dialogue fast. I’m referring to your rough draft. When you come to the places where your characters are going to verbally interact, which should be often, make sure you’re comfortable without interruptions. Then let your characters out, and let them speak to you. You are taking dictation. Don’t stop to think about what you’re writing. Don’t slow down. Use your “enter” key like an automan every time a new person speaks up. Yes, the conversation may go wiley, you can tame it later, but this process will also allow the characters to say what needs to be said that your over-analyzing may miss.
Let the conversation flow. Refer to the exercise above about eavesdropping. Practice the flow of conversation by listening to others. Close your eyes -- this is important. Let your ears experience the natural flow of words. Does one spoken line follow another seamlessly? If you’re writing and the conversation needs to shift, use your transition words and expressions to ease the dialogue where it needs to go. Don’t have Joe and Jane talk about horses in one place then start talking about the kiss they shared the night before without some kind of explanation as to why the topic changed. Having one of the characters say something like, “oh, I wondered when you’d bring that up,” or another transition would work, but don’t make your readers stop to try figure out what’s going on, because if they do, you’ve lost them.
Read out loud the conversations you’ve written. This is good advice, period, when you’re writing. Again, your ears are magic in what they can pick up that your eyes over look. Use different voices. You don’t have to shout and make your neighbors think your schizophrenic, but listen to yourself as you read. Think about your characters. Would Joe say “want to” or “wanna?” Would Jane tell her girlfriend Joe is “handsome,” or “hot as sin?” and how would Jane relate this same information to her grandmother? Reading aloud, it’s also easier to pick up on conversation jumps (see point above). Most important, when you’re reading what you wrote, did you lose track of who’s saying what? If yes, refer to the next point.
Use tags, but only when necessary. Dialogue tags are important in that they let us know who is speaking. There is no tried and true rule here. This is something that takes time and practice. You don’t have to tag every sentence. This will irritate readers. If you have two people talking, start off the conversation with tags to help your reader understand who’s saying what. Then let the characters talk to each other without your interference. Every once in a while, toss in a tag to reassure the reader they’re still on track with who is saying what. Using tags such as “he said,” and “she said,” is perfectly okay, but don’t smother your manuscript with them. Having your characters periodically use each other’s names, or describing an action, can also be effective ways to reassure your reader of who is saying what.
Take what you can from these tips, and if you’re really stuck, shop around for books on dialogue. In my perfect world, every book would consist only of dialogue, but that’s just my avoidance of writing narration. And that, my friends, is another subject all together.
Thanks for having me today.
Handed a historical romance at the age of twelve, Ayla Ruse fell in love with love and with happy endings. Having grown up living life tasting a little of this and a little of that has not changed this attitude, but it’s expanded her views. Love isn’t always happy and it isn’t always the way a person “thinks it should be.” Sometimes it’s outside the box, and it’s always a challenge.
The challenge of finding and holding onto this love is what drives Ayla in her fiction. She likes stories that strip love – among other things - down to the skin and tests the attachment and beliefs of the participants. Sometimes that test can come in the form of multiple partners, overcoming a desperate fear or even being sexually inventive.
Ayla is published with Changeling Press and with Total E-Bound. You can contact her through her website www.aylaruse.com, her blog www.aylaruse.blogspot.com on Facebook facebook.com/ayla.ruse or via Twitter @aylaruse
See examples of dialogue in my upcoming June 1 release from Changeling Press:
Bad Gone Better
Gunner is ready to give up on life. Imprisoned for eternity is not how he'd envisioned returning to the Doppelganger realm. He's been pushed, punished and tortured, but nothing has been able to break him. Until she comes on a three-moon night.
Melanie is a Wraith seeking revenge. She hadn't planned on tangling with Gunner, but he provides what she needs to survive.
Begging for an end, Gunner is startled when the strange king offers freedom, but it comes with a price.
As Melanie searches for her killer and Gunner works toward his freedom, will they discover their paths are heading in the same direction? And is this direction toward something better, or toward the void of darkness neither can seem to elude?
Buy Link: http://www.changelingpress.com/product.php?&upt=book&ubid=1839