Word by Word

Creating myself one word at a time.

Dialogue image

Dialogue imageI talk—a lot. Just ask my husband. He would agree. I talk at work. I talk to my previously mentioned spouse. I talk to my children. I talk to my mother, sister, and father. I talk to my dog, some might say more than is healthy. I even talk to some inanimate objects.

I also try very hard to practice active listening as it is a part of the daily work I do for my employer. My goal is to listen and analyze what people are saying. It’s hard to not talk.

So, it should mean writing dialogue for my creative writing is a piece of cake. Wrong.

Writing dialogue is one of the hardest parts of writing for me. There are a flood of questions running through my head as I write. Is that really how she would say that? Was that word in use in 1934? How exactly should I work this tidbit of information into the flow of conversation? How can I make this character distinctive in his dialogue?

Most of the time I have to just shut off the running commentary in my head and let the characters speak. You know, quit second guessing them.

I’ve also read a few articles with some pointers about dialogue:

  • Be natural in dialogue. Let characters speak without complete sentences.
  • Try not to information dump in dialogue.
  • Understand dialogue is meant to help characterization.
  • Think about character speech patterns.
  • Listen to real people and how they speak to each other.

This last point has brought me to a realization. There is another element to dialogue —something I’ve picked up on through my daily work at my employer and it has become part of my creative writing process. It’s all of those non-verbal cues.

The quirk of a mouth as something is said that makes you believe the comment was more sarcastic than the words might lead you to believe.

It’s the squint of the eye or crossing of the arms that signals you to understand the person is becoming defensive.

Or maybe it’s the shift of the eyes away from the recipient of the words to indicate discomfort or downright lying.

The pause a person makes before they deliver their thoughts, which may mean what they are about to say could be a tough confession.

Dialogue quoteAll of the non-verbal movements and cues have to work with the stuff between the quotation marks or the whole conversation falls apart. I’ve started thinking about what the character is doing as they are talking. In order for the reader to understand what is really happening during a conversation, the writer has to give a full 360 degree look at the situation. I’ve read some very frustrating books where the dialogue is missing some of the non-verbal description and I usually end up having to reread conversations trying to figure out the subtext going on in the conversation…because you hope the dialogue has a purpose. As a reader, I always feel a bit silly when I miss the point of a conversation. I don’t ever want to make a reader feel silly. Adding non-verbal descriptions to dialogue scenes can help avoid this.

While I still struggle with over thinking dialogue (I’ve add links to some short articles that help remind me of what to keep in mind as I write), more often than not, I have to just ignore them and get the scene out. Then hope that in the revision process the rough stone can be polished into a glistening gem. Thank God for revision.

A few articles I’ve found helpful:

And, if you’re like me, you may want to practice. You know, put some of the lessons you learn into actual use. Practice does make perfect, or so I tell my kids. Not sure it’s always true, but don’t tell them. I found some writing dialogue exercises. You never know when those writing exercises may turn into literary gold.

Writer’s Digest “Conversational dialogue writing exercises” have been great.

Do you have great tips for writing dialogue? Any great resources? Please share them with me!

One thought on “Dialogue: It’s not just the stuff between the quotation marks

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