Monday, September 10, 2012

Dialogue that Speaks to You

Sorry I'm late to the posting gig this morning - my computer decided to hiccup and out went my post. Here is something a little different than planned, but I hope it helps give you some insight into dialogue.

Being a purebred Southern girl, talking has never been a difficulty– however writing about ‘talking’ can be tricky. Writer’s Digest has some great books on dialogue, namely Dialogue by Lewis Turco and Dialogue – Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue by Gloria Kempton. The latter book is helpful in giving various exercises at the end of each chapter to support the info one just finished reading.

Dialogue serves several different purposes:
1. Characterization
2. Moves the story along
3. Creates Tension
4. Sets a mood

As far as Characterization is concerned, Jane Austen was genius.

If you’ve ever read any of her writing, you’ll discover that dialogue was as much a part of the character as his/her thoughts. Jane wasn’t prone to describing physical features of her characters, except maybe some ‘fine eyes’ here and ‘handsome features’ there, but she took the meat of the character and allowed the reader to figure him/her out.

For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins is known for rattling on about various things, basically just to hear himself talk. The reader quickly realizes Mr. Collins is a pompous, self-important man…just from his letter. Wow!

On the other hand, Darcy and Elizabeth give short, witty replies – and we end of liking them. It reveals characteristics of the one speaking and the ones responding to it. Within the first few pages of Pride and Prejudice, readers have a ‘handle’ on about six different characters mainly through…dialogue. Dialogue moves the story along, especially if you feel your getting ‘saggy’ in the middle. It should ALWAYS add to the story, never ending up as a bunch of empty words, and it also can cover lots of information in a short amount of time.

Obviously, dialogue can create tension.

Here’s a scene from Julie Lessman’s novel A Passion Denied.

“How dare you, John Brady? I have no choice! My heart is breaking because of you, and if it takes Tom Weston to get over you, then so be it.”
He jumped up. “Beth, forgive me, please, and don’t cry. We can pray about this-“

Disbelief paralyzed her for a painful second.
“No! You leave me be. I don’t want any more of your prayers-“
His hand gripped her. “Beth, please, sit with me? Can’t we just talk and work this out?”

Whew…and I didn’t even add any of Julie Lessman’s ‘oh-so-famous’ lip action

This is only a short example, but poignant – it shows the speed dialogue adds to a manuscript. Here’s another example from Deep in the Heart of Trouble by Deeanne Gist.

He walked directly to Essie and snatched the sash she was stitching out of her hands. “You’re coming with me,” he said. “What’s happened?” “I’m sick and tired of playing second fiddle to a bicycle race. I want to go to the soda shop, and I want to go right now.” She pulled the sash back into her lap. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve got more to do than I can possibly finishe before Saturday arrives. I can no more go to –“ He reached down, pulled her to her feet, then leaned so close he could count her eyelashes. “Put that sash down, Esther Spreckelmeyer.” She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t you bully me. I will not leave my members in their time of need.” “You wanna make a bet?”

Finally, dialogue sets a mood.

 Dialogue can be set up to create fear in thrillers, sizzle in romances, and care-freeness in comedies. Below are just a few examples of how first sentences set a mood.

Stand in Groom by Kaye Dacus,

“Nothing like running late to make a wonderful first impression.”

Sneak Peek into Steven James’ new book The Knight,

“The sad, ripe odor of death seeped from the entrance to the abandoned mine.”

If sentences can set moods, just imagine what an entire scene of dialogue can do.

Talk isn’t cheap, btw. It takes time to craft good dialogue, but it’s worth it. Just remember to ask these questions.
1. What does this say about my characters without ‘saying’ it outloud?
2. Does this dialogue move my story along or is it just a filler phrase?
3. Is there some sort of energy in the dialogue, whether good or bad, to keep me interested in what the characters are saying?
4. Does this dialogue set the sort of mood I want to present?

There are many more tips to writing dialogue, but these are a few to help build a memorable scene.


Susan Francino said...

The more I read Jane Austen, the more I realize how brilliant she is.

Good post! This will motivate me to not settle for dialogue that's just okay. :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Great pointers and examples, Pepper. I just listened to Jenny Jones' dialogue workshop from ACFW last year. Apparently I know what I need to work on now... :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great job, Pepper.
You stir thinking with great points. Thanks.

Jeanne T said...

Thanks for the great thoughts on dialogue, Pepper. BTW, I just finished Deep In the Heart of Trouble, and loved that scene between Essie and Tony. :)

Hope your computer is working better now. :)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Love those last four points - especially "what does this say about my characters?" and the idea of energy in dialogue. I can see how asking myself those questions would really strengthen my dialogue! Thanks, Pepper!