Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Creative Dialogue --- with Disclaimers

I'm including this article by Steve Manning because I found much of his advice to be excellent. However, there are a couple of things with which I don't agree.

First, keeping dialogue to a minimum. This, as with many writing techniques, depends on the scene and the characters. For instance, if one of your characters is an archaeologist and one is not, it would be natural for the archaeologist to verbally describe the intricacies of an ancient ruin or artifact. The non-archaeologist may not grasp what the other person is saying, but that could become part of the story. Think Samantha Carter's constant astrophysics expanations to Jack O'Neal in Stargate SG-1. Yes, I know that's a TV show, but it holds true in print, as well. It's up to you how you handle it. The fact remains, though, that minimizing dialogue should not be a hard and fast rule regardless of situation.

Second, while he's correct that people usually don't think in complete phrases, I think they sometimes do. I can also tell you from experience that people do talk to themselves out loud. (I can't tell you how many strange looks I've received at the grocery store because I'm verbally debating with myself over which kind of squash to buy. Maybe it comes from spending too much time alone, writing.) So, while Manning's section on thoughts in dialogue is helpful, I don't believe it's entirely accurate. Take your character's personality and background into consideration when deciding how to deal with those internal dialogues.

However, while those particulars should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, the rest, as I said, is very good. I hope you get as much out of it as I did.

How to Write Great Dialogue in Your Book

by Steve Manning

Dialogue isn’t so much read as it is heard by the reader. The eyes see the words on the page, the brain processes the thought, but then that little voice we all have in the back of our head becomes the character and actually says the words.

We immediately hear those words and decide whether the dialogue is legitimate. We decide whether the character, as we know him or her so far, would actually talk that way. If we don’t know the character at all, we use a very broad baseline and decide whether we’d accept a stranger on the street talking that way.

So to develop a winning technique for writing dialogue, you’ve got to listen to the way people speak. Family members, relatives, strangers, people on the telephone. What do they sound like?

You’ll notice that they almost all speak in short sentences. Two, perhaps three sentences at the most before they expect someone else to chime in.

Their paragraphs really do focus on just one thought or idea.

Our society abhors a vacuum, so a pause happens between speakers, not in the middle of one-person’s thought. That’s also why a pause can be one of the most powerful dialogue tools when it’s used in a play. The audience wants someone to say something, anything, to relieve the level of anticipation.

When people speak, they use simple language. Yes, I’ve know a few people who can speak wonderfully with an extensive vocabulary and make it sound totally natural. But that’s the exception. Make your dialogue very simplistic.

If you actually transcribed what people say as they talk, and then read it a few days later, you’d really have a tough time understanding what they were saying. The ums, the ahs, the tics, the embarrassed laughter, the stops and starts. They’d actually read like idiots.

But when we listen to those people, we filter out all that verbal debris. So when you write dialogue, don’t include it. You become the debris filter. Your dialogue doesn’t become more realistic simply because the character reads like an imbecile… unless you want your character to actually come across that way.

Unless you’re writing a play, keep dialogue to an absolute minimum. Don’t tell, show. Don’t have a character explain a situation if describing the scene that does the same thing.

Also, people don’t talk to themselves out loud, and their inner thoughts rarely take the form of dialogue. You’ll have to come up with a solution to that one for your story. An excellent example of this is the movie Castaway, with Tom Hanks.

It isn’t until we need some explanation that Wilson, a companion volleyball, makes an appearance.

Accents are fun, and Mark Twain received high praise as a writer who finally wrote the way people spoke.

But if you have a lot of dialogue, a heavy southern accent can become tiresome on the printed page. Tell the reader the character speaks with a southern accent and let them mentally fill in the drawl.

Finally, keep the “he saids,” and “she saids” to a minimum. At any point in great dialogue the reader should know who’s talking without much assistance from the author.

About The Author
Steve Manning is a master writer showing thousands of people how they can write their book faster than they ever thought possible. Here's your free Special Report, http://www.WriteABookNow.com/main.html.

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