Writing how-to

On Writing Dialogue

img_9471Remember, every good story should answer the following questions: who, what, when, where, and why.

To me, dialogue in a story is similar to an engine. It carries a story along, offering the reader a break from description, which if there is too much of, turns even me away from finishing a book. Description described by an author is sometimes necessary to answer the question of where and when, but when reading, I often scan descriptive “chatter” to move ahead to the meat of the book. The who and the why.

I love dialogue as both a reader and a writer. Sometimes while thinking my character is going to say this, he actually ends up saying that. Not only do you fool yourself, but you have riveted the reader into plowing on when maybe she was tired of being teased. She is now intrigued that your character is not doing what she expected, but heading towards certain death, heroic feats, or ending the book. Often I’ll have the beginning, middle and end of my story plotted out in the back of my mind, but sometimes even best laid plans get changed due to “a lack of better wording.”

I recently won a writing contest as Honorable Mention. The contest sponsors sent me back a sheet of compilations that they were seeking for First, Second and Third place. I liked that, seeing where I placed and what my story lacked. Dialogue! It’s so easy to lapse in to describing things for your character, rather than letting him carry the story through his opinion, or tone of voice, or talking but not saying as much as he should. Which opens your book to another few chapters, or leaves the reader hanging, and hating you for what wasn’t explained. Books that are serials follow the pattern of not answering all questions, so they can offer a second book to keep you drawn in. Or, sometimes a book is so poorly written, that the publisher, editor and writer don’t even know the major flaw that was made. I’m ashamed to say that I was so in love with the possibility of being published when trying to finish my second book, that I neglected to cross all my t’s and dot all my i’s. Fortunately, no one who read it know this, but that doesn’t excuse my sloppiness.

I live a fairly busy and lively life. I seldom sit still for long. Writing is my passion along with three other passions, but I work a part time job for which I travel a great deal, and meet lots of people. As a lifelong people observer and eavesdropper, I’ve found lots of different ways to present dialogue. Some of the best books I’ve read were by the writer Meg Cabot. Her books were about two good female friends whose dialogue was in text form. No dialogue in the he said, she said form. Just texting. I loved that! It was creative, out of the norm, and easy to follow.

Right now I’m synching chapters in my too long novel, trying to follow dialogue to determine how the novel will flow. It’s extremely hard even though I’m using a table of chapters to guide me, along with a spreadsheet of what each chapter is about, who is controlling the dialogue, and when. Without these guides, I’d be doomed. Characters would be giving away the story in chapter two and just before The End, the novel would seem to be starting.

The best way I’ve found to write dialogue is to read it aloud after it’s written. If it sounds corny or pompous when your character is anything but, you’re headed in the wrong direction. If a nine year old girl uses language only a 35 year old woman would, stop there, and spend a day at the Mall, all ears for how young girls speak to others.

My advantages in how I’ve lived my life, the adventures I’ve had, even my upbringing has a lot of bearing on how I write good dialogue. I’ve been around, you might say. I had dolls, paper dolls, dogs, stuffed animals, imaginary friends, and lots of real friends. I’m not shy, or afraid to speak up for myself. If I myself never run out of things to say, neither do my characters. I have to remember that next time I enter a story in a contest where I’m judged on dialogue.

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