It’s the first day of September peeps, and you know what that means right?!?
Yup…Morgan is in the house with his monthly Wordslinger. Now that’s the way to begin a new month…
Despite the wonderful reaction we had to last month’s commentary on the Dark Ages and their lasting significance on today’s society, I thought I’d delve right back into specific writing techniques.
We’ll call September’s Wordslinger: Open Dialogue.
Dialogue can be the reason many would-be authors never attempt their hand at the craft. It is a frightening and potentially derailing necessity in most works of fiction. Easy to read is often hard to write.
If you don’t need any help, read on anyway. This post is a short one and I respectfully submit that my “director’s” approach can be beneficial to all caliber of writers.
I suggest that you read dialogue out loud like a script. This will help assign the proper inflection the characters might take and instantly give you a second way to process what you’ve written. You see, we sometimes perceive information differently based on whether we heard, or saw (read) it. It’s how Oprah was able to scientifically prove that texting and driving was inherently dangerous (not just because it was stupid in general).
Our eyes and ears can both help us bring out the best in our characters, and you might find yourself assigning more humor and more emotion as soon as you start giving voice to your pulp population.
I have been told that my own particular style of writing is very visual. (Ironic indeed if we think about it, but I do like to set the scene). As such, I had to learn to get comfortable with dialogue and gathered quickly that avoiding it deflated the story.
It was when I was reading a section aloud to my wife that I discovered the value of speaking and hearing my character’s words. It instantly made me think of the community theatre plays I act in and occasionally direct. I began really treating dialogue like dialogue. Is it more work? Yes. Is it worth it? You may decide for yourself, but for me, it certainly is.
If you are reading your line and find yourself already using consonants where you hadn’t put them or changing the order of a few words, make those changes on the page right away.
“Don’t” and “I’ll” are two words used almost as often as conjunctions like “or” or “and” and so forth. (That was fun to write).
Shortening dialogue (when appropriate to the character’s speech patterns of course) should help you tighten up spoken lines and make for a more natural flow when it’s read.
Also, real live people tend to move our hands and bodies when we speak, so describing a small gesture before or after a line of dialogue will help break up the action a little bit and avoid a parade of: “She said, he responded, she corrected, he allowed, she giggled, he laughed, she sighed, he breathed, she whispered, he husked,” and the like.
Simply describing a person’s movements or gaze before a line implies that it is them speaking. Likewise, after a line (a short line) of dialogue, you can observe something about the speaker and how they are maybe waiting for a response to their own utterance.
Another thing to remember (if only two people are talking that is) is that once you establish the order of responses, you don’t have to assign any descriptor to a quoted line at all. You can just write line after line, switching back and forth but not labeling anything.
This works great if the conversation warrants a faster read in order to increase intensity. As writers, we control the pace as well as the emotion and the plot. It is something to wield wisely as it can make the difference in a scene coming across flat or fiery.
The tricky part of writing dialogue is that characters grow brains and hearts and start talking faster than you can type. This is great because that usually cultivates a very natural sounding conversation.
I am also a big fan of occasionally letting characters interrupt each other as it’s as common as misquotes in May in real life.
Sometimes, the important stuff doesn’t even have to be said. I have often times used dialogue to set a tone, or develop a character only to have the narrative give the truly pertinent information in the chapter. It’s always a choice how and why you use your character’s voices.
I think of dialogue as the spice and not the supper.
I used to really hate writing dialogue out because it slowed me down as a writer, even though it always made my scenes read super fast. It was when I started using it to break up chapters a bit more and to add levity and insight to my characters that I started seeing it as a secret weapon. I could use it to dress up anything that needed a bit more emotion or description without messing with stuff I had already written.
It became my “go to” tool and I have really gotten to know my characters better as a result. In fact, when I killed off my first fictional character it was quite arduous. It still is, but my coping skills are getting better. (It also helps if I know about their fate ahead of time, and it’s not an organic twist).
I sincerely hope that you have found my words helpful at best, interesting if not, amusing a bit, and spelled correctly at least.