Friday 18 October 2013

Dialogue - Why Dialogue IS Important.

Welcome back to the world of writing tips :) It’s fantastic to announce this is our 7th week running and we are still getting so much support. Thank you. 

This week we will be discussing the importance of dialogue and how it can help your story develop. With me I have ... 
So, let’s begin. 

Firstly, I’d just like to outline the purposes of having dialogue. 
  • It can help characterisation by bringing your characters to life by letting the readers hear what they have to say 
  • Writing narrative is difficult so dialogue can convey information about your characters and situations which you might not want to deal with using narrative descriptions 
  • The plot can be developed through characters making decisions
  • Emotional states of characters are provided to your readers 
  • Finally, readers can identify with characters through their words. 

Now let me provide you with some of my top tips for writing good dialogue. 

It’s key to remember dialogue in a story is different to how you and me might talk to one another. For example; if I asked you what the square root of 3,455 was, you might say “erm” or “um” before you answer the obvious - that is 58.77 (to two decimal places). Well, I hate to break it to you fellow writers, this does not make for acceptable reading. “Yeah”, “urgh” and “pfft” are not things your character should be saying in your stories. 
Having said this, don’t now assume you have to write poshly! “Yes, we absolutely must spread that silky, golden butter onto those freshly toasted crumpets.” Try adding realism to what your character is saying; “Mum, can I have some butter for these crumpets?” Or even just “Mum, pass the butter.” It’s with your narrative that you can talk about the texture of the butter and what your character wants to do with it. 

Try to avoid writing long speeches. Here are some tips to breaking up dialogue: 
  • The person/people your character is talking to could interrupt with a comment or question
  • Your character may choose to pause for a breath
  • How about your character spotting something over the listeners shoulder? 
There are many ways to break down what you want your character to say. 

When I started writing I hated dialogue because it meant I had to come up with more words than ‘said’. You know what I mean. Every time someone spoke I felt I had to outline that to the reader by saying “Jessie said.” Little did I know that instead of repeating the word I could just get the character speaking to do something and talk about that. Through inserting actions, “Jessie said” can become much more interesting; “Jessie said, smiling gracefully.” Also, I now know it’s important not to use a string of synonyms for the word ‘said’. This can just sound boring and even patronising to the reader if Jessie ‘said’ then ‘spat’ then ‘announced’ then ‘added’ then ‘commented’ all in one paragraph. 

A good way to check that the dialogue you have produced is good is to speak it out loud, treat it like a script and read through it, making sure that your characters don’t sound stereotypical, too posh or too slang! 
Remember, unless the dialogue moves the story along there is no reason for it being there. Be sure to give it purpose and never use it to boost the word count. 

So, top tips for writing dialogue: 
  1. Don’t use slang or sound too posh
  2. Break up long speeches
  3. Don’t overuse synonyms, just say ‘said’! 
  4. Use dialogue to develop, not as a filler. 

Over to the authors then for their contributions...

First up is the wonderful Jonathan Lee, author of The Radio which you can (and should) buy on Amazon. Learn more here: Or catch him on Twitter via @J0n4th4n_Lee.

I have to say that writing dialogue is my favourite part of writing.  It is such a useful tool for so many reasons.  Firstly, by a characters reaction to any given circumstance, their response to that circumstance can replace a thousand words of description.  The way a character speaks and communicates with others can give a lot away about who they are.
So much of my writing is about interpersonal relationships between characters and is based around the human observation aspect of how one person communicates, lives and survives alongside another. 
Therefore, as in life, the way they interact with one another will give a strong indication of aspects of their personality without having to overtly state those aspects of their personality to the reader.
The dialogue aspect can therefore state so much of a character and is arguably much more interesting than paragraphs describing a personality trait. Dialogue also helps to move the story along with a better rhythm and pace.  Many readers are actually excited about turning a page and seeing a full page of dialogue.
It is also very useful for changing a scene, or leaving a ‘cliff-hanger’ moment by using a statement from a character as the final sentence in that scene.
But perhaps most importantly, that important revelation that we are likely to find out about anyone, whether it be a character in a book or in real-life is almost always going to come from, or be confirmed by spoken word. Because ultimately it’s the main way that we all communicate.
Next up it’s the lovely Sharon Sant, author of the Sky Song trilogy also available on Amazon. Find out more here: Or follow her on twitter via @SharonSant. 

As my friends will tell you, I’m a hopeless chatterbox in life. This means that my book characters are too, so including lots of dialogue comes as second nature when I write. However, that’s not to say that I always get it right, and I’m the first one to put my hand up and admit that. All I can do here is impart some wisdom given to me by my creative writing lecturer, and some habits I’ve picked up along the way that I feel work. 
The best advice I had from uni was that while your dialogue has to be natural, replicating real life speech leads to a lot of repetition and weak words. Use your wells, ums, buts etc. sparingly. Listen to natural speech patterns then copy them with edits – a bit like airbrushing a photo – it’s real, but cleaner.  
You don’t always need an adverb in your dialogue tag to tell the reader how that particular line was delivered. Have faith in your characters’ ability to speak for themselves – let the reader decide what mood they’re in. 
While it’s good for exposition, don’t turn dialogue into an info dump. Don’t have characters’ conversations convey things to each other that they would never actually discuss just for the sake of imparting it to readers, and don’t have a rambling great page of tell not show – having speech marks around it doesn’t make it any less boring. 
The last point is a personal preference – I like to keep my dialogue exchanges short and sharp. I rarely have a character speak more than two lines at a time. It makes it snappier. I’m not saying everyone should do it, but it whizzes your narrative along.  That also goes for dialogue tags; as long as you can make it clear who’s speaking within the order of the conversation, you don’t necessarily need any at all, or you can get away with the barest of them. 

Thank you to my contributors this week and for the ongoing support by the public. Please follow my on Twitter @amieblinks and offer new suggestions for writing tips you’d like help with. 
Stay happy. 

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