Dec 12, 2017

The Write-A-Story Calendar Day 12: The Dialogue Dilemma

So, now that you've written a few hundred words, chances are that you'll have some dialogue in there already. Bad dialogue can make the reader groan and stop reading, while well-crafted dialogue zips by and manages to convey information, build character, and entertain all at once. But how to manage that? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Do all your characters sound the same (like you)? Is there a way to make them sound more individualised? Think pet phrases, accents, slang, and, most importantly, what they say and how they say it. Let their personalities show. If you cover up the dialogue tags, can you tell who's speaking? That's what we're aiming for.
  • Speaking of accents, don't overdue it. Accents and dialects written phonetically are a pain to read, in my opinion. Less is usually more.
  • Is the dialogue too "on the nose"? Is there a way to make it more subtle. Characters don't have to give straight answers to direct questions, in fact it's usually better for the story if they don't.
  • Dialogue is a good way to convey exposition, but you have to be subtle with it. You can have  one character explain how something works to another, but the other character shouldn't know that information beforehand, otherwise you've got an "As you know, Bob" type of situation. (As an aside, I kind of love Jim Butcher for thumbing his nose at the whole AYKB thing by inserting a "talking head" Bob the Skull into his story. Bob is an ancient spirit who knows a lot of stuff that he's always discussing with Dresden, but it never feels like clumsy exposition.)
  • Is the dialogue consistent with your time period? Are you using words that feel too modern, for example? But don't take it too far in the other direction, either. Reading real 1600s dialogue would be really annoying and confusing.
  • Have you taken the character's age into account? Kids are really tricky to write, at least for me.
  • Sometimes what's not being said is the most important part. What can be read between the lines? (Subtext, baby!)
  • Sometimes your characters just want to talk and talk and talk. That's fine, but maybe cut the three pages of discussion about what to have for breakfast before submitting the piece?
  • Writers are always saying that dialogue should sound realistic. Note: realistic doesn't mean real. You can cut all the ohs and umms and get right to the point. For great dialogue, check out Gilmore Girls. Nobody's actually that witty in real life, but the dialogue flows effortlessly, and it's usually doing at least three things at once.

Okay, that's all for today. If you have more tips to share, do post them in the comments, and that goes for all the posts in this series, of course.

Now go do your 350 words (of dialogue)!

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