Writing Tip Wednesday–Dialogue

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It’s Writing Tip Wednesday again and today we tackle nother one of the big five. dialogue is considered to be one of the big five when it comes to writing. So far we’ve talked about two others of the BIG FIVE, showing not telling and point of view. So today we are going to “talk about talking.” Get it? Okay, it wasn’t that funny. But maybe a small smile at least.

Anyway, not to toot my own horn, I think I’m pretty good at dialogue. Or at least I hope I am. After more than thirty years as a speech pathologist, I know a thing or two about talking. Here’s a few dialogue dos”

1. There must be a purpose to why the dialogue is happening. It must be relevant to the story and the scene. It must move the story forward.

4. Dialogue can be used to give crucial information to the reader. But it must be done in a way that makes sense. In real life and in fiction, the talker wouldn’t give information to a conversation partner who already knows the information. Meaning you can’t have your character give her background information to her mother. Because her mother already knows it. (That’s just one example.{ 

5. Dialogue can add to character development. If your character is illiterate then they shouldn’t talk like a college professor and vice-versa.

6. Dialogue can add to tension. One way to do this is to remember that people lie to each other, avoid answering what the other person is really asking, people mislead other people.

7. Dialogue must be believable. People don’t talk perfectly all the time and the dialogue you write shouldn’t be  perfect either. We don’t talk in complete sentences all the time. Don’t be too formal. Don’t be to polite.

8. Cut the small talk. Readers want action, not small talk. Save the small talk for your real life. When you write dialogue keep it interesting.

So, that’s a few pointers now let me give you an example:

The phone rang. Lil answered, “Hello.”

“Hi, Lil. This is Ronny. What are you doing?”

“Nothing. What are you doing?”

“Nothing. Okay, see you tomorrow.”

Now, that’s a riveting conversation–NOT. Let’s try again. We’re going to add in some of Mary’s thoughts and spice up the conversation a bit.

Lil stared at the ringing phone. That better not be Ronny. After what he’d done, she never wanted to speak to him again. She picked up the phone.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve calling me.”

“What…what  do you mean? What’s wrong?”

“You know exactly what’s wrong.” She should just hang up the phone. That would teach him a lesson.

“I…I don’t know. I was just calling to make sure our date’s still on. You know for tomorrow night.”

The homecoming dance was tomorrow night.  If she refused to go, that would really teach him a lesson. “Sure, I’ll see you tomorrow night.

I’m not saying that’s a perfect example but it does move the story forward and it adds tension along with some worry about what was she angry about and what might happen tomorrow night at the dance.

One last comment about dialogue To say or not to say! That is the question. This is a debate that never seems to stop.

You have some experts that believe “said” is the way to go. Their reasoning is that it’s basically invisible to the reader and allows the flow of the dialogue to go unhampered without author intrusion. On the other hand you have all these writes that want to show how creative they are and use a myriad of other terms. Sometimes to the point of being ridiculous.

Examples: He snarled, He barked; He shrilled; He lamented; He moaned; He …..on and on and on.

What’s my stance? I fall on the side of said–most of the time–but sometimes I can’t help myself and throw in a snarl or a whisper now and then!

Got any questions about dialogue? What’s your opinion about said versus more interesting terms?



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