One of my favorite things to write is dialog.
In comparing fiction-writing techniques to the human body, I equate plot with the brain, character development to the heart, and exposition (narration, backstory, description, etc.) to the unique way physical bodies are put together.
But what about dialog? Where does it fit? And how important is it?
In my opinion, dialog is the breath that brings the story to life. At times it whispers. Other times it shouts. But ultimately it is the oxygen that makes the difference between a story that is vibrant and alive and one that needs CPR.
I don’t claim to be an expert in writing dialog. But I can share a few of the things I consciously work on while I’m writing my stories:
1. Give each character unique ways of speaking. As I plan out characters, I try to give them each varying and unique ways of talking. We can give characters a soft-spoken tone, demanding, loud, negative, humorous, snarky, complaining, etc. Our goal is for readers to be able to identify who is speaking without having to use excessive numbers of dialog tags (said, replied, etc.). (And as a side note: I rarely use anything but “said” when I need to identify who is speaking.)
2. Story dialog is always bigger and better than real life conversations. Let’s face it. The way we talk in real life is boring. We can’t tape-record what we hear and translate it verbatim onto paper. Instead, like every other aspect of fiction, dialog is well—fiction. We have to make it more colorful, alive, interesting, more heart-wrenching, or more funny than anything we’d ever really hear.
3. In writing dialog, less is more. The days of characters going on and on for lines and lines of dialog is long over. In fact, we’ve entered the day and age when readers tend to skim anything that goes longer than a few sentences. When I glance at a page of my WIP, I check for paragraphs that are too bulky and then find a way to split them up.
4. Weave in dialects and time period speech sparingly. As a historical writer, I won’t ever be able to properly portray the speech patterns of long ago. Even if I could, it would bog down the dialog for modern readers. So instead of trying to replicate dialects and historical nuances, I generally try to give a flavor of the speech by sprinkling in phrases or words that I’ve carefully selected—ones that hopefully won’t cause readers to stumble.
5. Use it to help the story unfold naturally. We can’t get lazy and toss exposition-type information into dialog that should be woven in elsewhere. Yes, sometimes it’s hard to figure out where and how to seamlessly weave in story details. But dialog should always flow naturally within the story that’s happening around it. Dialog is not a dumping ground nor should it take over the story. Instead, it’s the breath that flows through the body that’s already there.
6. Vary the rhythm. When I’m writing a fast-paced, high-energy scene, I try to make my dialog follow suit—shorter and choppier sentences, a brisker exchange between characters, and much less exposition. But when I’m writing slower scenes, I can make my dialog slightly more flowing and longer. Likewise, when I don’t have any dialog for several paragraphs, I try to have my characters say something—even if it’s just to speak a thought outloud.
7. Develop tension through what’s said AND what’s left unsaid. I always look for ways I can cause increased conflict in the things my characters say to one another or in what they don’t say, the misunderstandings, the lies, the hurt, etc.
Those are just a few of the ways I work at making my dialog dazzle!
P.S. I had no idea when I wrote this post over the past weekend that dialog would be the topic of the week! Here are two other great posts about dialog: 5 Basics About Dialog You Need to Know by Girls With Pens and Say What? Writing Believable Dialog by Megan DiMaria.
What about you? Is dialog important to you in bringing a story to life? Have you ever read a good story but the dialog fell flat? What else can authors do to improve the dialog in their stories?
Here are a couple of the mid-week blog tour stops! You can WIN my book at both places!
Wednesday 9/14: Patricia Woodside asks me about the sensuality in my writing and what kind of feedback I'm getting about it. Check out my answer on her blog!
Thursday 9/15: I'm sharing more tips on writing realistic but readable historical dialog with Marcy Kennedy at Girls With Pens blog.
Don't forget to enter my BE A TRAILBLAZER CONTEST!