Just the Tips with Mel Westcott
Nailing your Dialogue
We spend copious amounts of time crafting our characters to perfectly fit the mold of our stories. We allow them to exhibit their personalities through their actions and -wait for it- dialogue! If your dialogue falls flat, your characters fall flat. If your characters fall flat, your whole story has the potential to crumble in an avalanche of mundane ramblings and disappointment.
Here are a few tips for making your story pop with awesome dialogue.
Write how your character speaks.
There are so many dos and don’ts in the world of writing. Luckily, when writing dialogue, most of those rules don’t apply. Dialogue is not formal writing, and you don’t need to have every word and sentence sounding professional (unless your character is some high-end office executive or something).
“The problem with most young writers today is that they live in a text-only world, and they don’t like speaking. So, their dialogue sounds robotic.” -Budgie Bigelow
I couldn’t agree more. Often, I’ve seen the question, “How can I make my dialogue sound more natural?” Here’s your answer: Research is KEY! Doing research as a writer, by the way, is the best kind!
Here are some techniques you can use to give your conversation just the right pop!
♦ Instead of texting your friends, call them from time to time.
♦ Meet your friends for coffee. Bring a tape recorder if you have to (Yes, they still exist. Walmart – 20 bucks). This way, you can record how the conversation flows and you’ll be face to face, enabling you to take note of mannerisms and body language during a conversation.
♦ Figure out where your character is from, and don’t be afraid to depict their dialogue through your writing. If you don’t know how people talk where your character is from, there are plenty of YouTube videos you can watch. Listen to them talk and write how it sounds. Don’t be scared to mess up dialogue. It’s hard to do, and that’s what your editor is for.
Don’t make your dialogue longer than it needs to be.
Sometimes our characters have quite a story to tell, and that’s okay, but dialogue that is too drawn out can cause a variety of issues.
♦ Your readers will get bored. A lot of people who like to read have short attention spans. They get enthralled in a good story, and when it’s stuck in a certain spot for too long, it causes them disappointment. Some might even put your book down, and never pick up another one.
♦ You’ll end up throwing some things in there that are in no way pertinent to your story. I have this issue a lot. My current novel involves a few stake-outs by my detectives. When they’re sitting in the car waiting for their perp to come into their sights, what are they doing? Just like in movies, other books, and probably real life, they’re most likely chatting it up. I want to get to the point, but not too soon.
In those situations, try to make your dialogue about the task at hand. Maybe something happened earlier in your story that was left unresolved? Those moments where dialogue is necessary are good times to fill in those blanks.
♦ Too much talk takes away from the action and other important features of your story. Certain genres typically have certain wordcounts for novels. If you spend all your time focusing on dialogue, when do you get to the good stuff?
Let’s talk about the controversy that is dialogue tags!
When I first started writing, I had help from two people I considered close friends. One of them was big on not using tags like, “He said”, or “She replied”.
The second of them, who is now my mentor, and fond of those wretched tags, said to me, “Don’t listen to those bullsh*t writing fads!”
I was lost, so I did my own research. Now that I’ve come farther and done more research, here’s what I’ve concluded.
Using the standard tags are okay.
“I was thinking that myself,” he said.
Quick, simple, and to the point. I don’t recommend eliminating those completely. However, I do recommend varying it up from time to time.
⇒You can use verbs as tags!!⇐
Too much he said, she said, I replied, is dull and repetitive and boring. Try using verbs as tags. It works.
“Fine,” I relented.
“Please don’t go!” She cried.
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He stuttered.
It makes things interesting for the reader while showing which emotions your character is radiating.
Don’t always put your tags at the end of your quote.
Shift back and forth from beginning to end to break up the monotony of the dialogue, unless you want your readers to get headaches.
Also, when it’s known that only two people are in the conversation, you don’t need to add a tag after every quote. As long as it’s known to your reader who made the statement, tags aren’t needed. If Jeff and Amanda are having a heated argument, tags after every quote are pointless. Only add tags periodically in those situations for clarity.
Well, folks, that’s all for today! Hope you found this article helpful!
Stay tuned for the next “Just the Tips – with KJ Marshall”!