Most stories cannot survive without dialogue. It is an essential part of storytelling, whether it is a monologue or a full-blown, five person conversation. Dialogue provides some of the greatest opportunities to reveal characterisation, tension, conflict and emotion.
Yet, writing dialogue can be something of a difficult thing to get across when writing. You either can or can't. I've read books when people have had great narrative skill, but the dialogue left much to be desired and vice-versa. Personally, I think it is something that continuously gets better the more you work at it and really try to succeed at. So, what are some of the important things to keep in mind when writing dialogue?
1. Keep it real.
One of the worst things that can happen to dialogue is unrealistic exchanges. I've seen this with writers who care more for "precision in execution" than anything else. So what if you are a "grammar dictator" when it comes to execution? Sometimes, the best dialogue is not grammatically correct. As a matter of fact, it usually isn't. Trying too hard to stick to correct grammar can kill dialogue. Take a moment and sit in a busy park and listen to people talking. Most will not speak in sound grammar. Most rearrange word orders, stick in colloquial sayings (my apparent sin), use slang, not pronounce words completely, etc. It's just the way we are. Sure, we are all taught grammar; we were all graded on it. But when you are hanging out with a friend, arguing with the jerk next door, or complaining about the guy who won't stop honking when you walk by, your grammar will not be perfect.
So why should your character's dialogue be any different? Each character should have a voice or flavour to it. If your character is very... concrete sequential, "sciency", more involved in books than people, then your character should sound like that. For example:
Impera nods. "That would be most wise. Security is a big deal. My skills are extremely proficient, so it is really not a mark to judge your own systems by. You have an extremely skilled system. I just know more than most anyone about such things."
"Well, let's look at this one." She moves a window over, then types a command. The main screen on the wall displays but one saying now. A grain of cloud streaks. The tower of souls glances at the sad clown of happiness and grace, with a tour of brains. "Notice the first clause. It draws attention to small detail, telling you to look at what is hard to see. The second clause speaks of sad clowns. Now, as far as my research goes, clowns can be sad or happy, based on the facial decor... clowns are an enigma, but that is for another day. But this particular verse speaks of a sad clown of happiness. Something... something has taken that which gives joy and turned it into something of sadness and depression. Then, it speaks of a tour of our brains. What is it that has brought such a cloud over the world as we see it? We must dig deep, accessing the recesses of our primordial thought processes, that which is closer to the natural order of things to understand the underlying problem. Somehow, we are overthinking everything, if this verse is to be taken seriously."
Quite obviously, this is someone who is not only intelligent, but simply confident in her ability to explain and know. Which is the point. This character, Impera, is of a people who only care for the journey of learning, unraveling and study. She sees no importance in personal connections, relationships and is quite bad at conveying things in a politically correct way. She has often, in the course of the story, said things that were honest, yet, to others simply... offensive or judgmental. She doesn't mean it that way. And I have to make sure that I always write her this way. Otherwise, I would be doing her a disservice when writing dialogue.
How did I get to the point that I felt confident enough to write her this way? First of all, I listened to myself in conversations with people I trust and love. I have the reputation of being a lovable know-it-all. My mother has told several friends of hers "If you ever want to learn stuff you had no idea about, strike up a conversation with my daughter and before you know it... she is teaching you." I am one of those people who, not because I feel I am superior to anyone in my knowledge, but that I love learning so much that conveying what I know is a delight to me... even if you don't want to know. Listening to myself... was interesting to say the least. I also love science shows and began paying close attention to scientists when they were speaking about their subjects. Simply put, observation was key.
So, how does one go about writing realistic dialogue. I've already spoken about one method: listening and observing. Actually listening to people speak around you. Take time to just watch a conversation. And while you are at it, have a notebook along. Write down observations in different situations. What do you notice about two people when they are arguing? What do you hear when a group of teens are talking all at once? What about formal interviews or when someone of importance is talking? Write these observations down and make sure you look at them, understand them and commit them to memory. This will be helpful.
Another thing you can do is actually read your dialogue out loud. This works wonders for me. When you do this, you will inevitably hear what you say and be disgusted or frustrated. I don't know how many times I've done that and just went "UGH!". It looked good written, but sounded horrid when said out loud. There was no flow, not rhythm, no fluidity. It didn't sound like I imagined. I also found myself reading it, but not reading it as written. My brain automatically "corrected" my dialogue as I read it. Which, if you think about it, is highly annoying. But, so very useful.
2. Don't rely to heavily on dialogue
Don't convey too much at one time. Sometimes, the temptation is to have a character talk and "spill the beans". That's a no-no. Don't let dialogue do all your storytelling. Sure, dialogue is important, but it isn't the only way to get the scene moving, reveal the culprit, or show a relationship budding between people. You have to find the right balance between dialogue and narration.
3. Be wary of too much dialogue
Too many dialogue exchanges at one time is a story killer. If all you do is "he said, she said" for half a page, you've killed your story, right then and there. It is fine to do a short exchange between people, without the "he said, she said" as long as you have established the speakers at the beginning of each exchange. But, that cannot go on for the entire conversation. Here is where conversation observation will come in handy also. No one just stands there, facing each other, for 30 minutes talking like statues. A natural conversation has multiple dimensions to it. People use body language, facial expressions. Stuff around the characters do things. People walk. People change tone. People smile, groan, laugh, kick, shake fists, throw things, punch walls.... you get the idea. That is necessary in your dialogue. I know Sally said she would go... but did she smile and wink while talking? Did she run up to the car and say yes? Did the boy who asked Sally kick a rock nervously as he asked her out? Did the wind blows softly, ruffling her hair when she responded? This all is relevant to dialogue writing. It adds flavour, it adds fun and detail. It makes it real.
Now, let's talk about punctuation. This... will be a boon to you if you can't get this straight, and will be a distraction to those who are reading your work.
First thing's first. A new paragraph is required every time you have a new person speaks. This is a must. If Ben speaks, does something, speaks again, that can all be in one paragraph. But as soon as Keldrin speaks, you better start a new paragraph, even if all Keldrin says is "So what?" to Ben's statements.
Second, commas, periods, exclamation marks and question marks. These are important. Their placement is too. Commas, exclamation marks and question marks need to go inside the speech marks (depending on where you are from, this is either " ", ' ', or - -) if the dialogue calls for it. For examples, look at the red, bolded punctuation marks. All dialogue sentences end with a period, as shown by the bolded, green periods.:
"You can't be serious!" Sophie yelled.
"Are you sure the alien was blue?" Nika said, unconvinced.
"There are just too many questions for my liking," Sora said, sighing.
There is one special circumstance where things are a little different. This is when your dialogue is interrupted in the middle of the sentence by an action. If that happens, the first part should have a comma inside the first part of the dialogue, then a period, exclamation mark, or question mark at the end, inside the second set of quotation marks. Notice that there is a comma after the action, not a period in this instance. For example:
"If a spaceship carries being of such high intelligence," Sonora questioned, her hand sweeping across the crowd, "then why would they want to visit here?"
It is also possible to have dialogue broken up by action, and the first part be a complete sentence and the second part be a separate complete sentence. In this case, there should be a period after the action. For example:
"Just take the dang truck and drive it down to the mill, Lionel," Sandra growled, confused. "What's he gonna do? Ram it with you in it?"
There is a lot more to writing dialogue than a ton of back and forth sentences. There are actions, emotions, conveyance, punctuation, mechanics... a whole list of things to consider. And this takes practice. Even those who write well still struggle with writing periodically. And that is natural. Practice, editing and conversation will help make it easier.
Fleming, Grace; About.com, Homework/Study Tips; http://homeworktips.about.com/od/writingrules/a/Writing-Story-Dialogue.htm; 2000-2012
Sawyer, Robert J.; SFWRITER.COM; ON WRITING; http://www.sfwriter.com/ow08.htm
Smith, Fiona Veitch; Creative Writing Course; Writing Dialogue; http://creative-writing-course.thecraftywriter.com/writing-dialogue/; 2000-2012
Wiehardt, Ginny; About.com Fiction writing; Top 8 Tips for Writing Dialogue; http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/crafttechnique/tp/dialogue.htm; 2012
< Message edited by Eukara Vox -- 1/23/2012 0:51:41 >