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Thursday, March 03, 2011

 

Are Your Characters Talking?

Do you have difficulty writing dialogue? Did you ever wonder why? I mean, think about it. Most of us spend the majority of our days in dialogue. We speak to our partners, our children, our parents, our colleagues, our friends, our neighbors...in fact, it's almost hard to figure out when we're not speaking. Rarely do we speaking to ourselves...well, except on those crazy days when we need to hold those conversations.
Think about the conversations you have throughout the day. Some of them are useful and help move your day forward. Some are informational. Some are gossipy. Some are planned and organized. Others might be, well, extraneous. (Did I really need to speak during meditation class?)
Now, transport yourself into a novel where you appreciate the dialogue. Think about why the dialogue works. What is it about the dialogue that works for you? And, more importantly, think how reading someone else's dialogue can help improve your fictional conversations.
When I write nonfiction, generally I interview people. When I sit down to write the piece, I think about the structure of it and how the interviewee's words will become a part of the fabric of the article. When reading a news article, notice how the writer has structured the piece, determining the important parts of an interview that should help within the article's weave.
In fiction writing, I believe the dialogue should also serve as a part of the fabric of the piece--teasing out various characteristics of the protagonist or helping to move a conflict into another stage. Dialogue can do some heavy lifting, even while coming across as breezy.
Speaking about dialogues, I'm reminded of some suspense novels I've read recently. Often the certain dialogue may not seem important until viewed through the lens of the final page. But, nonetheless, the dialogue has helped move the plot forward.
Frequently writers may avoid writing dialogue, which is a shame. It is a part of any story and character's life, just as talking is the part of our days.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer/editor/coach who lives in Wilmington, N.C., and reviews books for the San Francisco Book Review.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Jen Has A Pen said...

Thank you. This helps me. I used to hate the dialogue I would write. It felt choppy and immature. And, although I've gotten better, I still try to absorb all the tips I can.

4:07 AM  
Anonymous Aisha said...

Dialogue is difficult for me, but I agree with you, as a reader I don't like it when the author just summarizes the conversation- something about hearing the exchange lends a reality to the story. Great tips!

7:55 PM  

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