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Dialogue is a dance

April 1, 2009

Dialogue for some writers is a painful left footed affair, clumsy and ungraceful. For others, it floats off their page, entrancing the reader with its simplicity, beauty and seemingly natural delivery. Crafting authentic dialogue is a dance between the characters and the writer.

A man and a woman performing a modern dance.
Dialogue – as dynamic as a dance

Dialogue serves several purposes.  It fleshes out characters  and gives the reader  a break from straight exposition.  It aught to move the story forwards, be a tool for exposing information to the reader, forshadow events which are about to happen, making these events even more vivid when the do arrive,  and contribute to characterization and the relationships within the story.

However – the way real people speak will bore even the most avid reader as its full of interruptions, filler words and pauses.  Normal speech goes off into tangents – so crafted speech should seem real to the reader, but it shouldn’t have all the umms, errs and false starts of real speech patterns.

Writing authentic dialogue will require practice and observation on normal conversations. While you are ‘researching’  (eavesdropping) develop a sense of the natural rhythms of speech around you and expand your memory for phrases utilizes by sub-cultures and different age groups. It unlikely – though not impossible –  that a middle aged accountant will use words such as ‘dude’ or ‘bitchin’, or that a 8 year old will string long complex sentences populated with 3 syllable words – unless the story requires that specific characterization.

Dialogue needs to have purpose within your story and as a writer you will need to be mindful of its use within genres.  Science fiction stories tend use dialogue as an information dump and romance tends to rely on dialogue to convey characters feelings. By being diligent and utilizing other mediums to express this information, you will end up with a stronger, more compelling story.  Incorporate facial cues and body language as its more powerful than a shout or argument. The weather and environment is a potent mirror to the inner emotions of your character.

Care needs to be taken not to treat the reader like an idiot. When formatting your dialogue adding an adverb to the word “said” doesn’t accomplish much, in fact it can be ineffective and detract from the flow of your story. Its best to  write the dialogue so the reader can imagine the character’s tone of voice and state of mind from the visual cues, environment and the context of the story rather than writing that they had said it ‘angrily’, or ‘sadly’.

Dialogue conveys meaning and adds colour and depth to your characters within the story. However, when you let yourself write authentic dialogue, you’ll discover the thrill of delivering your character’s true voice to the reader.

Annie Evett is a freelance writer and describes herself as a Thaumaturg (what mother isn’t?). Her extent of observed dialogue this week has surrounded fairies, butterflies and Dora the Explorer and is desperate to escape into the adult world.You can catch her growing amount of websites and blogs here

Image courtesy via Wikipedia

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2 Comments
  1. April 1, 2009 7:22 am

    I have to admit to loving writing dialogue – most of it is simply downloaded (eavesdropped!) from the conversations my characters are having.

    My personal tic is the overuse, as you mention, of adverbs and speech descriptors (ask, proposed, acknowledged – etc etc!) Like a reformed smoker (yes I used to over use those words) it just gets right up my nose and destroys a great story.

    It was sad to see Stephanie Meyers fall into the over use of them in her Twilight series and totally kill the sponaneity and authenticity of the dialogue she wrote. I really did feel as though she thought I was too stupid to get the nuances her characters were creating. And annoying that her editors did not pick it up as well.

    Today marks the first day of Script Frenzy – and writing script is about stripping prose down to its bare components of simple description/action and dialogue. Here’s hoping the characters continue to keep up their nattering.

    Great post Annie!

  2. jamesashelford permalink
    April 2, 2009 10:45 am

    Yeah, the adverb problem has bitten me in impolite places a hundred times and they’re usually the first to go when the story gets passed around my friends. For the actual problems of dialogue I’ve always found speaking the words is the best test and you’ll usually know if it sounds unnatural for the character, especially if you get into it. Of course, in a crowded house this can cause problems.

    Explaining to my sister why you’re having a blazing row with yourself whilst alternating between an Irish and a Californian accent was not easy.

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