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A Writer’s Alphabet: D is for … Dialogue!

27 Jun Posted by in How-To Articles | 8 comments
A Writer’s Alphabet: D is for … Dialogue!
 

Distinctive. Disarming. Delightful. Delicious. LOTS of words came to mind (with the help of my fb friends) once they helped me decide that dialogue was the right word to use in this post. And why not? Dialogue is a writer’s best friend. It helps us develop a distinctive voice for each character. It can disarm the reader and catch him/her off guard. The right dialogue can add delightful tidbits about the story in a way that isn’t didactic and stodgy. And …

Dialogue can be a delicious way to add excitement and even a bit of enticement into a romantic conversation between your hero and heroine. Yep. Dialogue ROCKS!

I’m working on two pieces right now. A YA piece that is written in free-verse and a romantic comedy that is in the traditional format of prose. Both call for strong dialogue (what piece doesn’t?) but the YA piece has to be more concise due to its length. Every word has to count. It’s a bit like what Jenny posted about. Each word has a job and if a word isn’t being useful I have to boot it out. That’s another one of our jobs – making sure our words are keeping up their end of the bargain. If not, sadly, we have to hit them with a pink slip, or in their case, the delete button.

Out of curiosity, I looked up dialogue in a first edition Random House College Dictionary. It says: Conversation between two or more persons or between characters in a novel, drama, etc.

This definition is very precise. Quite succinct. But this one little word – dialogue – can give writers fits. Why?

I have a theory. Let me try it out on you. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on the subject.

I think many of us struggle with dialogue because we’re afraid of our characters. WHAT? Debbie, you’re crazy. We created these people! We typed life into them. We are the Dr. Frankenstein’s of the literary world!

Yeah, well, maybe. But, regardless, I believe that theory to the core of my being. I’ll tell you why. When I first started writing, I started with some ethereal, broad idea. Wanting to write  mysteries, I focused on the actions in the story. The creaks, the moans, the murder! Sound good? It wasn’t. It was one-dimensional, flat and flopped all over the place  like a fish out of water. You know why? Some of you are nodding your heads. You’re already way ahead of me, aren’t you?

It was flat and one-dimensional because I hadn’t taken the time to get to know my characters. As a result, I had no idea what was supposed to come out of their mouths in the form of their dialogue among one another. So, did I have great action beats? NO. Did I have chemistry? NO. Did I have a story that kept the reader flipping pages? Big Fat NO.

Moral of the story? Learn your characters – and listen to them talk. I posted on characters last time. Once you know them well enough to sit  on Jenny’s porch and shoot the bull with them, you can relax and go inside for a glass of sweet tea and an orange scone. Let them chat, rave, giggle, snort (some do, you know). The important thing is to let them converse. After that, all you have to do is brush away the scone crumbs, grab your keyboard, and record what they’re saying. They’ll do all the work. All you have to do is write it down. *wink*

Let’s take a poll. Who among us loveeeeeeeee writing dialogue? Who hates it and would rather do housework? Chime in!

  1. Jenny Carlisle06-27-11

    On my porch? I’m confused. Anyway- great post. Dialogue really makes the story come alive, and can even fill in back story better than the traditional info dump that turns readers off. Sometimes, I have to make sure it’s not too conversational. We don’t really want to write just exactly the way people talk, with all of the uhs, repetitions, etc. There’s a real trick to writing great dialogue.

    • Debbie Archer06-28-11

      Hey Jenny! Wasn’t that your post about sitting on the mountain side porch with your laptop? LOVED that image. I could close my eyes and actually picture the treetops and feel the breeze. Hmmm. Now, I’m scratching my head. If that wasn’t your post, who in the world was it?

  2. Sheila Covey06-28-11

    You are awesome at writing dialogue! And dialogue can make or break a story. Great post, Debbie. 🙂

    • Debbie Archer06-28-11

      Coming from the queen of quips and quotes, that is a mighty fine compliment, Missy! I love the dialogue in your current WIP where your main character puts her hero in his place! You have a wonderful knack for making your readers feel like they are standing right smack-dab in the middle of the characters like a little invisible eavesdropping butterfly. THAT’S good dialogue!

  3. Pamela Stephens06-28-11

    Debbie–you are right on! I have a theory: many times in novels the author seems to just be writing…no matter what the character is supposed to be. Characters are people, who typically have an “m.o.”–their personality wouldn’t do certain things in the real world, but if an author doesn’t have a handle on “types” of personalities–they may write in anti-typical careers, conversations, situations… do you know what I mean?
    I think if you have characters, you also need to rethink what this Sanguine or Choleric or(Melancholy, Phlegmatic) personality
    would really say, think, do feel…etc. Make any sense?

    • Debbie Archer06-28-11

      It makes perfect sense, girlfriend! I think all writers need to be perceptive in order to nail all the subtle nuances in his/her character’s story. It’s those small details that will come out in the dialogue.

      I love the mention of the personality types. And you’re right. We, as the writer, have to have a firm grasp of which type goes with which character. Are you as sad as me to see this month end with Janice? It’s been a “dig-in, dig-deep” kind of course, hasn’t it. I’ve never been a part of one so full of insight and reflection. I’ve loved it.

  4. Lisa Collins07-08-11

    Debbie, You really need to put your A-Z together in a book! I love this series.

    • Debbie07-08-11

      Thanks,Lisa! 🙂

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