Not long ago a couple of my crit partners wrote that they found it hard to write dialogue. I have worked in theatre and taught play writing classes, so I shared a few tips and exercises I use in my classes. Now I’ve decided to share some tips with everyone.
1. Develop Your Ear. One of the easiest ways to get a good feel for the ebb and flow of conversation is to listen. Forget what your mother told you and eavesdrop on conversations of perfect strangers. At the mall, in the grocery check-out line, take note of how people talk. I mean really—take notes. Write down conversations word for word if you can (it’s great cover for what you’re actually doing). Take your little scenes back home, read them over. Remember the people’s voices. Create characters out of them. Now take their conversation and make it into a scene. Who knows where this may lead?
2. Be a Watcher. Watch television programs and movies with great dialogue. I recommend Gray’s Anatomy, The West Wing, and Frazier for TV. For movies, Notting Hill, Sleepless in Seattle, and From Hell (the development of Johnny Depp’s character through his dialogue is truly stunning). If you write in a specific sub-genre, like historical, watch period dramas. They spoke differently than we do now. Western? Watch westerns for the rhythms and cadences of that particular speech. Urban Contemporary? Watch crime dramas, perhaps. But whatever the sub-genre, be sure to listen for the rhythm, the imagery, the nuances the actors bring out in the dialogue.
3. Everybody’s Different. As you craft your dialogue, remember that each character should have his/her own unique voice. Think what subtle characteristics the characters have that can be brought out through dialogue. Do they curse? (Less is more where that’s concerned.) Do they use one particular word mostly? Do they use euphemisms instead? Do they speak in flowery phrases? Is there a certain phrase that they tack onto almost every sentence? In one of my WIPs the sister of the hero, who I see as a bit scatterbrained, tags most of her sentences with “don’t you think?” Not often enough to be annoying, but enough to make that part of her character. People do these things in real life—make your characters real by using them.
BIGGEST TIP COMING UP!
4. Workshop. Playwrights do this to make sure their words will work in the actor’s mouths. Most sites with dialogue tips suggest you read your work aloud (which is a good tip, granted). Take it one step further. Host a Reading Party. Invite family, friends—they don’t have to be actors, just as long as they can read out loud. Then listen carefully as others read your work. Close your eyes if possible. Listen not only to how the dialogue sounds, but listen to how easily the words can be read. If the readers are stumbling over structure or difficult words it’s likely your silent readers will stumble too, in their heads. Do your words sound like the give and take of conversation? Words that look wonderful on the page sometimes sound clunky when read out loud. But if they ring true to your ear, you’ve achieved your goal.
5. Feedback. Let your readers help! At your party ask for feedback. Let them be crit partners of a different sort. Ask if anything felt stilted as they said the lines, or if they have any suggestions. You don’t have to take their advice, but you’ll have it if you need it.
These are some basic things you the writer can do to bring that sparkle to the dialogue you write. Try one or all and see if you notice improvement in your dialogue. Or if not exactly improvement, at least a new awareness of the give and take of conversation. That’s the place to start. Just listen.
Pamela Kimball’s birthday present, a 1Night Stand adventure, promises to jump-start her life, put a new man in her bed, and help her forget her past. Unfortunately, movie-buff Pam’s Pirates of the Caribbean fantasy takes an alarming wrong turn when she’s abandoned on a not quite deserted island—with ex-husband Roger Ware.
Forced by hunger to accept Roger’s offer of dinner, Pam realizes the geek she married has transformed into one of the most charming, sexiest men she’s ever met. His new found confidence—and hot body—re-kindle old fires. A simple kiss leads Roger to challenge her to discover how much his lovemaking skills have improved, leaving Pam torn between self-preservation and burning desire.
With time running out before they’re rescued, Pam must decide if her heart can survive the consequences of becoming Roger’s “almost” perfect 1Night Stand.
**Almost Perfect is Decadent Publishing's Read For A Cure book for the month of May. All publisher proceeds from sales of the book from any vendor during the month will go to benefit Relay for Life. And a portion of the author's proceeds will be donated as well. That means whoever purchases the book during the month of May is making a wonderful contribution to cancer research. Please Read For A Cure and help us close the book on cancer.
Jenna Jaxon is a multi-published author of historical and contemporary romance who has been reading and writing historical romance since she was a teenager. A romantic herself, Jenna has always loved a dark side to the genre, a twist, suspense, a surprise. She tries to incorporate all of these elements into her own writing.
Jenna lives in Virginia with her family and a small menagerie of pets. When not reading or writing, she indulges her passion for the theatre, working with local theatres as a director. She often feels she is directing her characters on their own private stage.
She has equated her writing to an addiction to chocolate because once she starts she just can’t stop.
*Edited by Teresa Crumpton*
*Edited by Teresa Crumpton*