Welcome to the 7 Scribes and a happy Friday to you! Casey here.
One of my favorite parts of writing is dialogue. Well written dialogue between characters can inform, entertain, anger, laugh or even make you cry. For me, when I begin a story and even while writing it, I can hear the characters talking in my head. They always begin as a voice, long before I have any idea what they look like!
As a reader, I am drawn to dialogue. If I see pages and pages of words with no one speaking to anyone else, chances are the book is getting tossed in the corner.That doesn’t mean I want to read pages of endless conversations. Like everything in life, there must be balance.
So I am offering my tips for writing dialogue.
~ Use humor! But only if you’re funny (and it’s appropriate for the scene). Not sure what I mean? Pick up a book by an author who makes you laugh and study how they do it. Authors who do this well: Kristan Higgins, Julia Quinn and Jim Butcher.
~ Be clear about which character is speaking. And take the opportunity to show action when appropriate.
~ Let your character’s personality shine through their speech patterns. If all your characters sound like the same person, you have a problem.
~ Remember that men and women see the world differently. And that women do tend to be more verbal!
~ Use dialogue instead of long descriptive passages. During editing, I always ask myself if a scene would work better as dialogue between my characters rather than relying on deep point of view.
~ Keep in mind that dialogue is an opportunity to allow characters to interact, to show conflict, to be sexy, act dastardly or to showcase a myriad of other emotions and behaviors.
~ Be crisp and concise. Like all writing, omit needless words.
~ Don’t use dialogue to info dump on your reader! They know it and will skip over it. In my house, we call this shameless exposition. Television shows do this all the time. Some do it better than others. If you watch anime (Japanese animation), the characters break out into long-winded monologues at the weirdest times. Like in the middle of a battle, characters recap the plot line from the episode before. Or in police procedurals where two cops will exchange “information” through dialogue. This can work in television but on the printed page, not so much. Remember, this is where showing comes into play. Using dialogue to tell is still telling!
~ Don’t waste dialogue in banal exchanges. For example, the play by play:
“How was your day? Could you hand me the salt?”
“Good, until I had to spend two hours sitting in traffic. How was yours?”
“Awful. My boss hates me. Everyone is getting a raise except for me. Please pass the potatoes.”
This is about as much fun as watching paint dry. Nothing is happening here. Sure, it’s like a real life dinner conversation but when you’re writing fiction, you need to use conversations to move the plot along, not lull your reader into a verbal coma.
~ Don’t leave off dialogue tags. Establish who is speaking right up front. Then you can drop the “he said, she said.” But not for too long, otherwise the reader will lose track of who is speaking and you will take them out of the story!
Let’s hear from you. Do you love or hate dialogue? And who do you think does it well?
11 thoughts on “Just Say It, Already!”
Great info, Casey, and all so true! 🙂
Thanks Tim! I do admit to being a dialogue snob – the more of it the better.
Good reminders Casey. Nothing worse than dialog where two characters chit chat! Thanks for the pointers!
I totally agree. It was judging contest entries that inspired this post.
Casey, I totally agree with you. In judging Write Stuff, I come across so much inane dialogue. For some reason, authors think they have to detail every “hello how are you.” I suppose we do this because it seems more real-but as a reader, it’s a turn-off.
It’s a common mistake and I agree that I’m sure it’s intended to make the scene more real. We always have to remember we’re writing fiction and not a documentary!
Having snappy dialogue that moves the story along and showcases a character’s unique personality can make or break a good story. I especially try to avoid the inane conversations, wiping them out during revisions. If it doesn’t have a purpose, it has no place in the book. If my head starts saying blah, blah, blah, it needs to be cut. I don’t want readers doing the same thing.Your tips are all right on target, Casey. I’ll consider them all as I revise my current WIP. Thanks for the reminders.
Yes! Exactly PJ! I know if I find myself spacing out while reading my own words, the reader will for sure. 🙂
Whoa, just what I needed, thanks. I am in the middle of learning how to create snappy dialogue. Suggestion of my writing partner, Brenda Lewis, was to check out dialogue in Harry Potter. I have one Potter book, “Ends the Order of the Phoenix”. Rowling varies the length of the descriptive phrases btw dialog. I guess it’s done well enough based on the stories and popularity of the series. What do you think Casey?
JK Rowlings characters are memorable, in part, because they all act and sound like individuals! So good suggestion by Brenda! 🙂