The Heart of Writing

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Tackling Dialogue

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Dialogue is a tricky thing to get right and writers usually tell me that this is the part of the writing process that they get stuck with.

So what makes dialogue interesting? How should it be approached?

Firstly, it must sound natural and authentic to the character speaking, if you have two characters with very different personalities having a conversation, make a note of how they each sound. Do they sound different to each other or does it sound just like you speaking though your characters?

To move the dialogue along, there must be a little disagreement, this demonstrates their different points of view and allows the reader to agree with one character or another. As I read somewhere in an article about dialogue: “people agreeing makes for terrible dialogue”.

What is being said is also more important than how it’s being said. This is not being delivered in this example:

“I’m sorry, Sylvie, but I just can’t help you,” Jane told her frankly.

“Oh,” said Sylvie, dissapointed.

This doesn’t move the dialogue along. We understand that what Jane has said is frank without having to be told so and we know that Sylvie is dissapointed but all she has said is “oh” which makes for a dull conversation, leaving the other character(s) in the conversation with clunky or sluggish responses.

This instead, moves the conversation along and the characters are saying what they feel, giving us readers more to take from the dialogue:

“I’m sorry, Sylvie, but I just can’t help you,” Jane said.

“Why not?”

“I just don’t think it’s any of my business.”

“Well you seemed keen to get involved before,” Sylvie replied.

We can now hear Sylvie’s dissapointment reacting.

Once you’ve written your dialogue, read it out loud! This is so important, you will be able to hear how convincing it is, if it flows or not and if it sounds authentic to each character; don’t write witty comebacks if the character speaking doesn’t possess this quality!

To help you with conversation topics and the way things are said, and by whom, spend one day with a journal/notebook sitting in a coffee shop or on a bus or train and write down the things that people are talking about. There’s no need to make sense of what they are saying specifically but jot down in quote form, all the things you hear, no matter how random.

Eaves-dropping on strangers in public is a really good way to hear a variety of personalities discussing menial things or important things in particular ways respectively. Some of the most interesting dialogue I’ve heard has been from friends catching up at the next table to me in a cafe or someone on a phonecall having an argument with their partner. Have fun with this, but don’t make it obvious that you’re taking note!

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2 comments on “Tackling Dialogue

  1. thinklikeashark
    July 29, 2013

    Some great advice on one of the trickiest aspects of writing.

  2. Pingback: Writing Natural Dialogue | Page by page

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