Thursday, November 13, 2008

Good Dialogue

I've been scrolling through all my bookmarked pages to find information on dialogue. It's something that's a work in progress for me. I find that at times my dialogue flows and other times it's sooo stilted. So I thought that maybe I'd find some experts to tell us how to do this.

Condensing Back Story

by Elizabeth Rose

Instead of using narration to tell tons of back story, let your characters do it for you through dialogue. It makes it much more interesting, plus it gives the characters a chance to develop.

For example, in her book Eden’s Garden, author Elizabeth Rose combined a bit of narration with the use of dialogue of Eden Ramirez, the heroine, and her dying father to tell of their relationship.

“Papa . . . don’t die,” Eden said in her native tongue.

She took his large hand in hers and rubbed it softly against her cheek. He was so unlike the hardened professor who had come from the States year after year to study the Incan ruins of Machu Pichhu, hoping to find some uncovered truth or hidden treasure of the ancient culture that was destroyed so many years ago.

“I wanted to marry your mother – really,” he whispered through his ragged breathing. “I’m sorry. I wish I could have been the father you needed.”

Even if you didn’t know Eden was half Peruvian and lived far from her American father, you could see the distance of their past in their words. Her words show us she has feelings for him and doesn’t want to lose him. His words show most the back story. We find out he has never married her mother, he’s sorry about, and obviously had feelings for the woman, but something didn’t work out. He knows he hasn’t been a good father or there for his daughter, and we see his guilt as well. So, in just a few sentences, we find out what may have taken a page to tell about the back story.

Dazzling Dialogue Tips
by Alicia Rasley

Keep it short: 3-4 lines between " ", then insert an action, change speakers, switch to a quick thought. This creates more white space, suggests more movement, forces you to be cogent and quick.

Keep it snappy: This is conversation, not a lecture. Go for demand-reply, stimulus-
response... aim for conflict within the conversation. SHOW the conflict by snapping
back and forth. They don't have to be vicious as long as they can interrupt each other.

Keep it active: Watch the static conflict, where they keep arguing about the same thing over and over in the conversation. Pick out the best exchange that shows that conflict, and then at the end of that exchange, start something new, open a new angle on the subject, bring up something they haven't yet considered, have a speaker change tactics.
"You never listen to me!"
She sighed. "Right. Then how come I know exactly what you're going to say next? If I never listen to you?"
"What? What am I going to say next?"
"You're going to say that no one listens to you. You say that every time."
He started to protest, then paused and regarded her balefully. "Okay. So sometimes
you listen to me. You never do anything about it! It's even worse! You listen to me,
hear what I'm saying, know what I mean, and then you do nothing! You don't even
"Oh, yeah! And no one cares!" She laughed. "And here's my cue, right? I'm supposed to assure you I care, and show you by doing whatever it is you insist that I do. Well, the hell with it. I'm tired of it. I quit. You're right. I don't care. No one cares. No one gives a tinker's damn about you. You've been right all along about that."


Monique Wood said...

Great tips, Nat.

Dialogue is a bit of an issue for me at the moment. I'm writing so much backstory.

I'll worry about improving that in December. Or maybe I should go and work on that now?!

Ken Hatch said...

Just write, but as you do so keep in the back of your mind how you can write better. From the editing I've done when I write now I'm conscious of those rules and don't make as many mistakes. Hey in a few years I'll write perfect first draft if I keep making all these mistakes now...

Ellanora Joy said...

Thanks Nat! This is one area I need to really work on.