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GIVE YOUR CREATURE A VOICE: DIALOGUE

Posted Saturday, October 1, 2011, at 11:00 AM

Writing dialogue for your characters can be a daunting task, and many people find it intimidating. I think it's a lot of fun. Maybe I just like putting words in other people's mouths.

Good dialogue brings a book to life, and gives the reader a sense of being right there in the scene with the characters. Just keep in mind that dialogue in a book or a story is not the same as how people talk in real life. In real life we tend to repeat ourselves, say "um," "uh," "like," and use other filler words. Pare down the dialogue in your writing to eliminate the superfluous. Cut anything that doesn't move the story forward, foreshadow coming events, or add tension. That means in most cases you want to leave out greetings, small talk, that sort of thing. Your characters might very well say, "Hello, how are you doing today?" and, "I'm fine, how are you?" and, "Had a little cold last week, but I'm better now." Yawn! Unless this piece of dialogue has something to do with the story, cut it out!

Avoid very long sentences in dialogue. We tend to talk in short bursts; your characters should do the same. Read your dialogue out loud. If a sentence feels too long, break it up into two or more. It will make your writing feel crisp and authentic. On the other hand, you want to take care that your characters don't all sound alike, and that they don't all sound like you, the author. That's an easy trap for a writer to fall into. Each of your characters should have such a distinct personality that your reader will be able to recognize who's talking without your having to identify the speaker each step of the way.

Here's a bit of dialogue from Gone with the Wind, between Scarlett and Rhett at the Confederate Ball:

"When you've been talked about as much as I have, you'll realize how little it matters. Just think, there's not a home in Charleston where I am received. Not even my contribution to our just and holy Cause lifts the ban."

"How dreadful!"

"Oh, not at all. Until you've lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is."

"You do talk scandalous!"

"Scandalously and truly. Always providing your have enough courage -- or money -- you can do without reputation."

"Money can't buy everything."

"Someone must have told you that. You'd never think of such a platitude all by yourself. What can't it buy?"

"Oh, well, I don't know -- not happiness or love, anyway."

"Generally it can. And when it can't, it can buy some of the most remarkable substitutes."

"And have you so much money, Captain Butler?"

During Scarlett and Rhett's dance at the ball, there are nearly three pages of dialogue between them without one single attributive clause! Yet we know who's speaking, even without their constantly referring to each other by name. We know because they are such distinct personalities on the page that it shows in their speech patterns, their choice of words, etc.

Of course when there are only two people in the conversation it goes without saying that the lines of dialogue switch back and forth from one to the other, but even if there were more than just the two of them involved in this conversation, I believe Margaret Mitchell's writing is so well done that we'd still know who is who.

Next time we'll talk about attributive clauses, an important part of writing dialogue.


Sit/Sat vs. Set

Sit is for an action on your part. "I sat on the chair."

Set is what you do with things. "I set the chair in the middle of the room."


A Bit of Promotion:

Roger Stoner's new book, Horse Woman's Child is now available. He was at the Hiney Wine Festival Saturday in Peterson, signing his books and having an overall great time!


"Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it's just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it." David Sedaris


Comments
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You are correct! Writing dialogue is such a daunting task that most writers avoid it like the plague. (Not as much as they avoid the use of cliches, however.) I also find the use of the word, 'said' very annoying...he said, she said.

-- Posted by like2read on Fri, Oct 7, 2011, at 11:17 AM

It seems I have to force myself to write dialogue, and forced dialogue is worse than none. I envy those who do it so naturally. I need to keep pluggging away to see if I can improve.

I also want to put in a good word for Roger Stoner's book. He is an astute reader, historian,and gifted author. I highly recommend Horse Woman's Child to anyone who likes historical fiction. The fact that it is regional is also a plus.

Having Shapato Publishing in our area is a gift for so many of us---and Jean's blog is an added benefit.

-- Posted by Betty Taylor on Wed, Oct 12, 2011, at 5:35 PM


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Jean Tennant has been writing professionally for more than 30 years. Beginning with short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, she eventually branched out to full-length work, with several novels published by Warner Books, Kensington and Silhouette. Now the owner of Shapato Publishing, LLC, in Everly, Iowa, she teaches writers' workshops throughout the Midwest, for which her schedule can be seen at: www.jeantennant.com. Jean lives in Everly with her husband, Grover Reiser, and their dogs, Kirby and Dakota. Favorite quote: "Outside of a dog, man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx.
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