Using Dialogue - before it uses you!

Hi Fierce Friends!

Here's the next installment from my In A Nutshell Workshop. It's on Dialogue. I hope it's helpful to any aspiring writers out there! ;))


Dialogue is one of the most effective ways to keep your story moving, to show characterization, to reveal plot twists and to keep your reader interested. But there is a lot more to dialogue than He said, She said. A few pointers:

1. Always let your reader “hear” an important scene. In other words, don’t tell about a conversation between grandmother and Joe--let the reader hear and see it by letting them read the actual conversation.

2. Don’t over use “ly” words. It is common when learning to use dialogue to say things like “I can’t go,” she said brokenly. Or “Do you know?” she asked questioningly. It is always better to let the words themselves convey the emotion, “Do you know?” she asked. (this is obviously a question and no need to say questioningly) and “I can’t go,” she said, her voice breaking as she whispered the words.

3. Use dialogue without having to say, ‘he said, she said’. Look at these two different ways of handling dialogue:
“Why didn’t you tell me he was coming?” Lorraine asked.
“Why didn’t you tell me you wanted to know?” John answered.
“I wish you’d go away and never come back!” she said.
“Too bad wishes don’t come true,” he said.

B. “Why didn’t you tell me he was coming?” Lorraine glared at the tall blond haired man, hoping he could feel the full brunt of her anger.
“Why didn’t you tell me you wanted to know?” he countered, leaning back against the bar, lifting the full bottle of beer to his lips. He smacked after he drank, a habit that had always irritated her in their years together. Now it just served to remind her of all the reasons she had left John Campbell.
“I wish you’d go away and never come back!” Her hands were balled into fists and for the first time in her life, she really thought she could do violence.
John set the beer bottle down and walked toward her, his blue eyes devoid of warmth. She took a step back from him, but the wall was behind her and there was no place to go. He leaned down, his full, repulsive mouth almost touching hers.
“Too bad wishes don’t come true,” he whispered.

You can see from these examples how much more you can do with dialogue, weaving description and action around the conversation.

In the next example, take the paragraphs and re-write them, using dialogue. Use your imagination, you can add to the characters in any way you want.

Example 1
Jack had walked into the room, hoping that Mary would be there. She was. He began to tell her just exactly how much her betrayal had hurt him. She didn’t seem to care. Her response was as cool and calculating as ever. He poured himself a drink. When had he lost her? When had she stopped loving him? He didn’t understand. She began telling him then, how his drinking was what had driven her away. He retaliated by explaining he drank because of her. They argued a little more and then she turned and walked out of the room, leaving him alone with his drink.

Example 2
“I wish you could come home earlier,” Mary said.
“Why should I come home earlier?” Jack said. “All you do is complain about what I do.”
“Do you want a cup of coffee?” she asked.
“Yes, I like your coffee,” he answered.
“Are you mad at me?” Mary wondered.
“Yes, I’m mad, can’t you tell?” Jack retorted.

Short but sweet, eh? Try out these ideas in your dialogue and I hope you will see a new energy and immediacy to your writing!

Keep Writing! Hugs from Tess!



Margay Leah Justice said...

Love your graphic - my kitties sometimes try to transcribe for me, too. Can't tell you how often I find random zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz's dotting my manuscript. Gotta love 'em! Anyway, great tips on dialog. They are very important keys to remember as we write and I like how you offered examples of both ways (the do and the don't) as this really makes the visual pop.

KarlaAnn said...

These are great tips for writing dialogue. I especially appreciate example three, a and b. What a difference between a bare skeleton and a fully fleshed piece of work. Thanks.