Monday, January 17, 2011

Dialogue Impaired

What makes a good story? Is it the plot? The story itself and how it moves forward? Is it the tension you feel; the thrill of the climax or the relief of the outcome? Maybe it's the characters. From the main character to that guy in the fifth chapter who only has three lines and is never seen again. Maybe that's it.

Actually, it's all the above. And then some.

What's the some, you ask? Well, one of them is dialogue.

Oh yes. That seemingly simple art of characters talking. Sometimes it can feel like a burden on our shoulders, can't it? Whether you like it or not, dialogue is a big part of your story. The way a character speaks can say a lot about their upbringing, their background, age, etc...

The only problem is that sometimes dialogue can come out sounding stuffy or dry. Have you ever read a book where all the characters seem to speak like robots? So...perfectly?

"Hello, how are you?"

"Very well. How have you been?"

"Did you happen to see the news last night?"

"Yes, I did. There was an interesting report on what has been happening."

See how stuffy that is? Sure, there may be some people that talk like that in real life, but most likely your reader won't come across many. And if they do, what makes you think they want to read about characters like them? I'm going to give three different examples of the same dialogue above. See if you can picture the type of characters that would be saying them.

"Hey, what's up?"
"Nothin. You?"
"Eh, fine."
"See the news yesterday?"
"Oh yeah. Crazy stuff, huh?"


"Hey, you. How's it going?"
"It's going. What's been happening with you?"
"Nothing much really."
"Did you catch the news last night?"
"Sure did. I can't believe all the stuff going on."

The first example here is obviously two younger people conversing, where as the next example could be viewed as people in their mid-twenties. Maybe a little older. But do you see how much more easily those lines roll off the tongue? How much smoother one transitions into the next? It's easy to picture people having this conversation in a grocery store, a restaurant, or on the phone.

The trick is to take what you encounter in your every day life and incorporate the language into your writing. Everyone has a different way of speaking, of enunciating. Even your characters. A good way to know if you're heading in the right direction with dialogue is to test out your lines with someone. If that's not possible, then just saying them aloud helps. If it sounds awkward to you, chances are it will read awkward.

So here's the challenge:

Write the following lines of dialogue 3 different ways. (come on, that's not too hard)

"I do not understand the meaning of this class. It is so difficult to pay attention."
"I too, at times, find my mind wandering."
"Shall we converse with the counselor about switching courses?"
"I believe you need a valid excuse for such a thing. They will never allow it."
"I see. Well, then we shall just have to endure."

Ready? Fix it!

And as always...Happy Writing!


  1. Trying out that dialogue excercise. :)

    "I don't understand this crap! I swear to God you could fall asleep to this guy's shouting."

    "Meh. The only thing interesting about this class is the girl sitting right ahead of you."

    "Michelle? Damn, when'd she get hot?"

    "Where have you been?" "Still wanna switch classes?"

    "Hell no. I do want her number though."

    "Tough love, buddy. I heard she rejected Mike last night. He tried to feel her up and bam! Socked him right in the balls."

    "Damn that must've hurt."

    "Still wanna switch?"

    "You have a better excuse other then the proff's boring-ass lectures?"

    "How about the fact that Michelle's gonna kick your ass if you make a move?"

    "The cousellors would never buy that."

    "Fine, man. Your loss."

  2. Bravo Madelaine! That was a fantastic example of spicing up dialogue. I felt like I was there, listening to these two characters spar back and forth. Well done and thanks for taking the challenge!

  3. Dialogue is definitely one of your strong suits and I'm glad you did a blog on it

  4. Thank you, Rue. I plan on doing more...different aspects of it.

  5. Kudos to Madelaine for taking the challenge and doing well! What a great post Ree Vera. I think it's true too--dialogue makkes up a good chunk of our books and we need to do it well otherwise the characters can come off sounding flat.

  6. Exactly. And nobody likes a flat character. It also can make the character read as unbelievable. Never a good thing.
    Whoa girl, you're on a reading roll!



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