Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Finer Points of Great Dialogue

Dialogue is one of the most important functions of any good story.

“Tell the story between the quotes.” These wise words from Rachel Hauck always make me stop and pause and consider what all is being said through the words of our characters. Dialogue should be magnified by body language, interaction with setting, and even sometimes by what is not being said.

 How do we go about creating great dialogue?

1: Remove everything you and I would say in everyday life. Unless it speaks for what the character is not saying, dialogue such as “are you doing” shouldn’t occur in a novel. You want dialogue that drives the plot forward. There are exceptions to every rule, but as a general idea anything you or I would say in normal everyday conversation shouldn’t be included in good dialogue.

2: Go for the zingers. Those pops of dialogue you wish you had come to your mind at the perfect moment…but instead showed up three hours later. This is the great reality for every author. We have the opportunity to let our character say it! With that being said, be careful to avoid dialogue that is stilted and overdone. So how do you create those moments where your character has the best comeback? It has to fit with their characterization. If you have a sassy and sarcastic character give them all the zingers you possibly can. But if your character is more demure and quiet, their words need to have the most impact for when they speak. (Perhaps this is the character that is your voice of reason for your other characters.)

3: Make sure your dialogue fits your character. It's important that what you write fits your characters. To learn how to best do this, I would suggest the ever socially unacceptable option of eavesdropping. Airport eavesdropping is great for this, as you really can’t help but overhear, so you might as well take notes (wink). Listen for how people talk. The tone of their voice, the inflection, the words that 
they use. How would you put that into a story?

Dialogue is an opportunity for our readers to view your character from a different angle. To see their knee-jerk response and reaction.

Dialogue should be accompanied by a few key elements: the tone of their voice, the inflection they put behind their words, and their body language.

4: Body language is a huge asset to every author—and not just in dialogue. How is the character standing-- what direction are they facing? Who are they looking at? Are their arms crossed? Is their
breathing labored? Are their hands extended in supplication or plea? All of these things paint a picture for how the reader will visualize the character.

5: Much can be said by what you're not saying anything at all. By leaving a question or statement unanswered or unfinished, you speak for that character’s thoughts and emotions more than words ever could. Don't underestimate the power of a nonverbal.

6: Subtext. This is one of my all-time favorite uses for dialogue. Subtext is not what is being said, but what is being understood through the dialogue that is being spoken. This is a tricky concept to nail and even harder to write. Think of subtext as something you are trying to communicate, but will not be overtly mentioning to the other character. Subtext is a natural way to create tension, as what is unsaid is also left open to interpretation by other characters. Which can lead to false understanding and even discord between characters.

 A great way to hone your dialogue is to find some of your favorite books and read only the quotes. 
By studying your favorite authors’ dialogue, you are able to see what techniques they are using, the length of their sentences, their word choices, etc.

Who are some of your favorite authors that do dialogue well? Share in the comments who they are and why you love them. Or share some techniques you have found that you really love for your own books. I would love to hear your take on what aspect of dialogue you love to read or write.

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in colorful Colorado where she gets to live her dream stalking--er--visiting with her favorite CO authors. 




Robin E. Mason said...

ended a chapter with this the other day, "“Now then.” She reached for a book on the piano. “Tell me about this.” bwahahahah

one thing about dialogue is it's not linear, like Q&A. normal, natural conversation is bumpy and jumps around. i know we don't want to do too much of that to our readers, but it can draw out whatever they're talking about, or show more of who the charcter is - why is he/she not answering? what is happening that ignores the question or comment - i love writing dialogue!!! must be the actress in me! ;-)

Casey said...

Hi Robin! Yes! I think you are absolutely correct. In all dialogue there are opportunities to utilize what we do in everyday life. Though if we only wrote Dialogue exactly as how we talked it would be the worst dialogue ever written. LOL!