The Trouble with Dialogue – Part 4
One of the most valuable tips I have discovered about writing dialogue is this:
If its not readable out loud –
its not dialogue.
This is the last of a four part article, where writing dialogue has be discussed, with hints and tips drawn from personal experience and from notes taken in workshops and writing seminars. Over the past few weeks, I’ve explored finding your writing voice to express dialogue, looking at authentic dialogue and the rules of writing dialogue.
This week will look at summing all these articles up with some tips for you to work with.
Show rather than Tell
This piece of advice is as much to do with your descriptive narrative as your dialogue. An information dump through conversation will appear exactly like that. Readers are pretty cluey when they’re being fed facts. Allow the story to unfold naturally.
Speech but not how people talk.
Alfred Hitchcock once said that a good story was “life, with the dull parts taken out.” This is just as true about dialogue. Pay attention to the way people use certain expressions and words in their everyday conversations. Drop most of the filler type words which are uninteresting to listen to. Use dialogue which will carry or progress the story along. Otherwise edit it out.
Take care with the Dialogue Tags
Remember your main aim is to keep the readers attention. Distracting them or jarring them out of the text by inserting unnecessary dialogue tags will see your audience disengage from your story. Experiment with different words or actions to let the reader know that someone has said something – without actually saying “he said”
Give some relief with some Action
Unless your character is bedridden, is very likely that they are moving about whilst speaking. Your dialogue can gain grounding and realism if enriched by action and physical details about the environment (inner or outer)
Slang and Accents
Just as many writers are wary of cliches and stereotypes, care aught to be taken when using profanities, slang and accents within dialogue. These things can also distract or alienate your reader from your plot. In saying this though; carefully chosen words, which are in line with the characters motivation can strengthen the authenticity and believability.
Shut up and Listen
Build the background and setting for your characters, research to your hearts content; but then allow your characters to speak through you. Being congruent with your characters often means that you will have to take a step backwards from your soapbox and allow them the space to air their message.
Dialogue doesn’t need to be arduous. It – like other writing tools is used to
- ensure the story moves along
- reveal key information so that the reader is not bogged down into lengthy descriptive narrative.
- allow a character to reveal their quirks and idiosyncrasies.
Its also alot of fun to write; often uncovering new relationships or deepening storylines.
Image by paurian via Flickr