Sunday, 2 March 2014

In a Nutshell - Writing Dialogue

In a nutshell – Writing Dialogue

"The dialogue is generally the most agreeable part of a novel, but it is only so long as it tends in some way to the telling of the main story."
- Anthony Trollope

I could go on at length about dialogue but when I started doing this In a nutshell series thingy it was just to give you a flavour so to speak of bits I had picked up over the course of writing since 2007. So here is a snapshot of the things I have learned along the way about writing effective dialogue!

Now I have to admit when I started writing I thought that dialogue had to reflect real life dialogue. Yep big mistake. It doesn’t. It shouldn’t. In real life you don’t do the two things vital to dialogue in a novel and they are:

1) Creating tension or providing information
2) Moving the plot along

Well I suppose you could say that three things are vital because creating tension and providing information are two items and you can do all three with dialogue. These points are the essential markers for dialogue. If you don’t have them in your bit of speech - you probably don’t need the bit of speech there in the first place. Yes it’s nice to have a bit of conversation for pleasantries but if it’s more than a couple of lines you will lose the reader’s interest and they will skim read. Trust me I’ve made this mistake in my first book and I have read several books where I have had no interest in the characters dialogue because they are not really telling me anything!

Dialogue is a great way to show conflict and create tension. You can have characters fighting and a bit of interior monologue to show what people are really thinking. Not only will this break up the dialogue, but it will give you an insight into a certain character- Showing in fact - an element of a character. With subtle nuances, characters behaviours and reactions to spoken words you can give the reader an insight into a character. Use subtext- it is your friend. With effective dialogue you can do so much!!!

You can also explore characters motivations with interior monologue and subtext and you can make your characters more three dimensional here.  Is your character a junkie or a granny. Use the phraseology they would use and what kind of mood are they in? If they are depressed- perhaps they would use a lot of negative words. If they are happy they may burst into song- Okay two extremes here but you know what I mean. This will add atmosphere and mood to your writing which we have previously discussed in the previous ‘in a nutshell’ blog posts.  Ensuring Characters have their own way of talking can reduce the need for ‘he said, she said’. However note that said is the best tag to use as it disappears into the page. It’s like a word that readers don’t acknowledge and it’s much better than using substitute words such as ‘she cackled,’ or ‘she whispered’ kind of thing.

The last three points are these

1) Remember to trim the fat! Yes I use this phrase all the time. I write the dialogue I want in my first draft, It’s long and quite frankly borning and tedious when I read it back. I go through and cut out any words that are not required. I add a bit more shrugging, subtext and scene setting.
2) Set the scene in between dialogue. Where are they chatting? Whats the weather like- does it reflect atmosphere (bring in symbolism here) – Yes there is so much you can do with dialogue. 
2) Remember also not to have continuous dialogue as in everyone saying something. Through in a shrug, grunt or a nod to a conversation instead of the spoken word and this will make your dialogue flow better!


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