Monday, July 21, 2014

Dialogue That Speaks to Me

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 Meant to Be Mine by Becky Wade:
another example from
"I know its a shock to hear from me. I'm sorry about that. I could call back later."
"No." Goodness, she didn't want that.
"All right, he answered. "So. Lunch?"
"No. I have nothing to say to you."
"Maybe not, but I have several things I'd like to say to you."
"Look..." She pressed her teeth into her bottom lip. "If you've come because you want a divorce, you should have saved yourself the trip."

Whoa MAMA! Makes you want to read more, right? We don't even need to characters names in that scene to know there's some trouble brewing :-)

 Dialogue can be set up to create fear in thrillers, sizzle in romances, and build subtle (or overt) comedy! It also tells you so much about the characters without info dumping.

Below is an example of how dialogue can set a mood.
Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo (Although Mr. Darcy Ruined My Life is my favorite in this series)
(Emma is the POV character and her former best friend in the scene is Adam)

I thought I'd cried all my tears there were to cry in the months since I'd moved out of the home I'd shared with Edward. Clearly, I was wrong.
"I'm sorry," I said, my words muffled by the pillow.
"It's okay. It'll be okay." Adam rubbed his hand between by shoulder blades. I turned my head so that I could see him.
"I'm lying on a borrowed sofa, with no money to speak of, in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and I've just seen my former best friend in a towel. How in the world is that going to turn out okay?"
He really did have the nicest smile. His eyes lit with laughter.
"Well, number one, at least you have a sofa to collapse on, like a heroine out of some romance novel."
"True." I sniffed.
"Two, I'm something of an expert at living in London on the cheap. I'll show you the ropes. How does that sound?"
"Okay, I guess." I waited for him to address my third complaint. Now, though, he was the one suddenly looking uncomfortable.
"Maybe we could forget about the third thing."


If a few 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.

What do you enjoy about good dialogue? What does it communicate to you?

13 comments:

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I love dialogue!! It is my favorite part of books. Give me too much description and I'm snoozing, bu give me some great dialogue banter, and I'm up all night!

Pepper said...

Sherrinda,
I'm the same way! Dialogue adds action and keeps my somewhat ADD brain engaged :-)

Meghan Gorecki said...

This was fabulous. Great inspiration as I launch into some crucial scenes in the end of my novel!
*hops off internet & turns off Wifi*

Becky Wade said...

Thanks for including an example from Meant to Be Mine, Pepper! I love, love, love writing dialogue. Maybe because it's not only fast and fun to read but it's also fast and fun to write.

You make some great points. I completely agree that dialogue can reveal character, can heighten tension, and can increase the pacing. Here's to dialogue that speaks!

Julie Lessman said...

FUN, FUN POST, PEPPER!!! Thank you SO much for including me in your examples. It's always fun for me to see what dialogue snips readers like from my work, but you know what? They're never the same as mine, which just goes to show you there are a gazillion ways for a hero to speak to a woman. And thank God, or all the books would be the same! :)

Becky is already on my "auto buy" list, but I have never had the pleasure of reading Beth Pattillo before, so it appears I need to remedy that. Thanks for nudging me in that direction because I don't have anything to read ... ;)

Hugs,
Julie

Julie Lessman said...

FUN, FUN POST, PEPPER!!! Thank you SO much for including me in your examples. It's always fun for me to see what dialogue snips readers like from my work, but you know what? They're never the same as mine, which just goes to show you there are a gazillion ways for a hero to speak to a woman. And thank God, or all the books would be the same! :)

Becky is already on my "auto buy" list, but I have never had the pleasure of reading Beth Pattillo before, so it appears I need to remedy that. Thanks for nudging me in that direction because I don't have anything to read ... ;)

Hugs,
Julie

Pepper said...

Meghan,
So glad it could inspire you toward creativity :-)
Dialogue is one of my favorite things to write

Pepper said...

Becky,
Your dialogue is SO FUN!! And you're right, it is fun to write it as well as read it.
Of course, I had to list Meant to Be Mine as an example because it's my FAVORITE book of yours!!!- and it has fantastic examples
THanks for stopping by

Pepper said...

Jules,
ALWAYS a delight to feature your books. At least one of them stay on my 'reread' shelf at all times, and your dialogue (as well as many other parts of your books) are smokin'

Bluebelle said...

Awesome post, Pepper! I love dialogue, but it's always good to hear tips on using it correctly!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Great post! I've always been intrigued by the "extra stuff"/ subtext that goes on beneath the surface of dialogue. Reveals so much about a character. Love your examples!

Pepper said...

Thanks, Bluebelle. I love learning about ways to improve writing, especially when it's something as energizing as dialogue. :-)

Pepper said...

Thanks, Karen.

I think most of the time I have a good hold on dialogue - now I just need to add all those pretty things you and Ashley add to your writing to make it sound almost poetic.