Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Dialogue on Dialogue

"What are the keys to writing good dialogue?" I asked a writer friend.

"Well, as you well know, I am an avid reader and the author of several yet-to-be-published books, and I know about such things from writing many manuscripts starting when I was only seven years old growing up in Saskatchewan. It makes sense that you would ask me, your Facebook friend, and a person who, while raising seventeen cats, still has time to write every day. One thing you should always do is put a character's back story into your dialogue. It tells the reader about your character and is much livelier than including it in narrative."

"So I see."

"And ending sentences with a preposition, once totally taboo, is something you can use dialogue for."

"I thought we used dialogue to relate what characters said."

"That reminds me. Never use 'said' for tagging your dialogue. The English language is full of much more interesting words to use for a dialogue tag. Try ranted, exclaimed, reposted, averred, proclaimed, and so on. 'Said' will just disappear so that the reader will only focus on what the characters are saying instead of on your creative way of expressing it."

"Okay. I can do that," I said. "How can I make my dialogue sound natural?"

"Well, uh, part of your, um, problem could be that when people are talking in, uh, real life, sometimes they . . . pause . . . or, uh, su-su-su-stammer, or, um, re-reach for just the right . . . turn of phrase . . . and, um, writers sometimes leave this out and make their dialogue, uh, unnatural. By putting it into your dialogue, you'll, uh, make the reader feel like . . . he or she . . . is reading what a real person is, um, saying."

"Isn't that a little hard to read?"

"Really, Sam? Isn't it clear, Sam? Which reminds me, Sam, that making your dialogue personal by mentioning the other character's name over and over again, lets you know who's talking. You understand don't you, Sam?"

"My name's Carol."

"And do not use contractions. I could not be clearer. I would like to think you will follow my advice. I cannot imagine that you are unable to understand why. This is not email, you know. It is formal writing."

"I'll try to remember that."

"Nother whay to mike somethin' sound jes' raht, is to use spellin' that'll tell the reedah the kinda accent yer kerkter haz."


"And always write in complete sentences. Never use a single word or two as a response. It shows a disrespect for the reader."


"Trust me. Writing dialogue is easy. Why when I write dialogue I always try to make sure that the speaker, or in this case the character who is represented on the page by the author as having spoken, gives lengthy and thorough responses to all questions posed. Thereby, they can expound upon the important issues that surround the matter at hand, whatever that might be in the context of the story the author is attempting to tell. There is a reason that Shakespeare used the soliloquy. It was so that an individual character could command the stage, singularly and alone, for all to see, to talk, perchance to muse, upon a subject without interruption from anyone else. Being able to hold the floor with other characters on stage, or in the room, so to speak, or on the page, is even more important, for any character who is worth writing about should be able to go on and on and on and on and on and on. After all, that is the way people actually talk, never allowing for interruption until they have expressed a complete, well-designed, and gracefully executed barrage of language with or without meaning. Such is the way of the world, and it is in this manner that you should write your dialogue. Otherwise it lacks verisimilitude, which is a word, you, as a writer, should know means having a quality of realism, or of being true to reality."

"I don't think people really converse that way."

"Think not? My bad. But I'm just too sick to care. Because my dialogue is always surge, you, my reader peeps, no matter when you read my work, will know that I am awesome, because I always use the latest language fads to appear hep and up to date."


"And don't forget to repeat yourself. You shouldn't forget to repeat yourself. People do it all the time. For emphasis, or to be sure they understand. To be sure they understand what's been said. People do it all the time. You should repeat yourself."

"Doesn't that make it a bit tedious?"

"Such palaver. You will also want your dialogue to limn a protagonist with whom your reader can colligate. Write dialogue that imbues the character with perspicacity and sagacity."

"I don't know what half those words mean. Should my readers have a dictionary close at hand, or should I just include a glossary?"

"If you follow all of these rules, you, too, might be able to write several unpublished manuscripts with dialogue as good as mine."

"Thanks," I said. I think I'm sorry I asked.

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome! Dialogue is so incredibly natural, yet sometimes so hard to convey as natural. Thanks Carol!