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The Trouble with Dialogue – Part 4

August 4, 2010

One of the most valuable tips I have discovered about writing dialogue is this:

Spooky Story

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.

Part One can be found here.  Part Two can be found here. and Part Three here

Image by paurian via Flickr

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Annie Evett is VERY excited to be on a roadtrip down to the Byron Bay Writers Festival – where she can freely talk about all the characters who constantly bicker and fight for her attention in the shower.. without fearing those around her want to commit her. Follow Annie’s shameless self promotions here on Twitter  or here on Audio Boo and start your escape into her world here
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  1. August 4, 2010 10:15 am

    Good summary. I think the last is the most important. When I’ve fully developed my characters, they do ‘speak for themselves’. They act for themselves, too. They take care of a story like a best friend who lives according to her rules, not mine. That’s one of the many exciting parts of writing. To me, anyway.

  2. adampb permalink
    August 4, 2010 8:05 pm

    I find myself speaking through my characters at times (rookie mistake), but usually the character is speaking for themselves. I have fun letting them rant and rave and get up to all kinds of mischief.

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