Let's Talk About...Dialogue


With each story I write, I become more enthusiastic. Blame it on the thrill of the unknown. How the characters and plot develop and overcome the obstacles I deal them. What happens if I decide to make the book’s setting become antagonistic and temporarily thwart the goals of my hero and heroine? How can I keep upping the ante on the conflict to deliver the maximum reader impact? Will the universalities and theme I’ve chosen resonate with readers?

All of these are things I consider during the writing and editing process, but one element of storytelling sparks my greatest passion—dialogue. Whether my tale is told from the Louisiana bayou, a small town in Texas, an otherworld teeming with demons and despicable characters, or the Lower Eastside of Manhattan during the Jazz Age when speakeasies and corruption reigned supreme, the people who live on the fictional pages must deliver convincing dialogue.

My research for dialogue involves acute listening skills and observation of body language. Whenever I’m out and about, or even when I’m lunching with family and friends, I make note of mannerisms, personalities and speech patterns. How emotions play a huge role in a person’s gestures, tone and message content. Some men are excellent conversationalists, but most are subdued and speak far fewer words than we women. Most women can’t stand the silent treatment. The way my heroes and heroines speak also hinges on how I’ve scripted them. During the editing process, I read each character’s dialogue passages aloud. If they have a speech quirk, impediment, dialect or accent, I recognize these when playing their role. In essence, although we authors are writing fiction, we strive to make our characters believable and ones to whom readers can relate. For example, rugged guys don’t think about the way golden waves of a woman’s hair skim her forehead when they’re looking at her for the first time. Doting, far-from-Alpha men don’t swagger and spout profanities. A cowboy wouldn’t think about how much he adored a woman’s crimson frock or patent-leather aubergine satchel with eye-catching kiss-lock closures and stunning hardware, and he wouldn’t talk about the same, either.

When all is said and done, much like cathedral bells, dialogue must ring true. What are your thoughts on dialogue and the role it plays in the romances you read? Can you “hear” the characters speaking as you read their story?

Wishing you all many happy reading moments,

Shawna Moore
TORMENTED -- Ellora's Cave (Must-Read from Dark Angel Reviews)
ROUGHRIDER -- Ellora' Cave Exotika
HELLE IN HEELS -- Ellora's Cave Exotika
TO HELLE AND BACK AGAIN -- Coming April 29 to EC Exotika

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Carly Carson said...

I love dialogue. It's the first part I write whenever I start a scene or story. What's hard with men is that when they are speaking like real men do, in 3 word sentences, it can be hard to transmit the info you need to transmit. So I usually write out what I want them to say, and then edit ruthlessly until it's succinct.


Nicole North said...

Great post, Shawna! Count me in on loving that dialogue. Yes, I hear the characters speaking, their accents and tones of voice. Like Carly, I generally write dialogue first and that's how the story is revealed to me. As far as the romances I read, I want the dialogue to sound natural and believable. If it's stilted or stiff or somehow unreal it can yank me out of a story. :)

Natasha Moore said...

I love writing dialogue too. I definitely hear voices as I write. :) I most often write pages of what I call "talking heads" Just channeling all that dialogue onto the page. Then I add all the action/reaction/description/etc. after I get the dialogue down.

Great post, Shawna. Dialogue's another part of writing I could talk about all day long.

Julie Robinson said...

Funny pun on that last statement, Natasha!!

Shawna, Here's a quesiton: Since a man is not prone to noticing specifics about a woman's attire--i.e. 'patent-leather aubergine stachel with eye catching kiss-lock closures,' what do you think is the best way to put description in without reverting to 3rd person omniscent POV? I mean, the heroine could observe these things in some way. What are your thoughts?

At the same time, it seems as if you're saying that the hero would not observe things as poetically either---i.e. 'the golden waves of her hair skimmed her forehead,' which introduces the color and style of her hair. No argument there, but how to go about with the description.

I guess I'm asking about Observation (aka Internal Dialogue) from the hero's POV when it comes to describing the heroine or setting for the reader so that she can 'see' the picture. Sounds like the basis for a workshop???

Now as far as external dialogue goes, I love witty repartee. Which could reveal some description, I know, but it's the hero's Internal Dialogue POB that I have the most trouble with.

Enjoyed your thought-provoking article.

Carol Ericson said...

Shawna, I love writing and reading dialogue. I love a witty exchange between H/H. Whenever I write dialogue for my hero, I must go back through and edit because I tend to give him more words, especially qualifying-type words - like "just," "although," "very," and so on. Guys just don't talk that way!

ShawnaMoore said...

Hi, Carly!

You're absolutely right--it's quite a task translating male-speak without having short sentences all the time LOL They are creatures of few words for the most part :) Like you, I let the dialogue and writing flow then edit later :)

Hope you've had a lovely Easter weekend --


ShawnaMoore said...

Hi, Nicole!

I agree with you unnatural-sounding dialogue yanks me right off the page. Makes for an instant disconnect with the character and scene.

Glad to know I'm in great company with enjoying the delightful task of writing dialogue :)

Hope you and yours enjoyed the Easter weekend --


ShawnaMoore said...

Hi, Natasha!

I've also found myself writing long sections of dialogue and later filling in the setting and action details. While the dialogue is flowing, I don't like interrupting it by editing in other things. Though I adore description, dialogue is what really makes those characters come alive for me :)

Hope you and yours enjoyed the Easter weekend --


ShawnaMoore said...

Hi, Carol!

You're absolutely right about the way we have to edit certain "padding" words, adjectives and adverbs from a hero's responses. They prefer being succinct, while we girls love verbosity LOL Even during discussions, guys are short and to the point. Me? I enjoy expounding on a subject or matter LOL

Hope you and yours had a lovely Easter weekend--


ShawnaMoore said...

Hi, Julie!

For those alpha men so many of us enjoy writing, I usually keep it brief. The hero may think the following:

Nice body
Pretty eyes
Love the sound of her laughter
Redheads are hot
Would love running my fingers through her spiky blond hair
Gotta kiss those full red wet lips

Of course, there are men who appreciate style and will know designer names. If your character is an artistic type, having him internalize and vocalize details pertaining to her clothing, hairstyle, type of fabric used to upholster her couch, etc. is fine. Ranch hands wouldn't typically know these types of details, so their internalizations and comments would be more like listed above. Someone who's a CEO, a billionaire, or a guy who grew up holding a platinum spoon would internalize and respond far differently than guys who grew up on the streets in many cases. For the most part, it all depends on the background, career and personality of your hero. Most guys generalize about colors (i.e. blue, green, red, yellow, etc.) They notice if a woman "looks nice" but don't necessarily care about the clothes she's wearing that make her body appealing.

I'm absolutely with you on loving to read and write witty repartee. Sexy banter is very seductive, too, IMO. One thing I have found is true--guys are all about the action and little about the talking during physically intimate moments. We can write dialogue during those passages in our books, but I've not found guys willing to go into talking sprees during sexual moments. Just doesn't happen :)

When writing men and their POV, we authors are dealt a difficult task. What I rely upon are details stored in my memory from actual social interactions, past boyfriends, my ex, etc. for their comments in a given situation. None of these rugged guys ever knew the difference between Capris and pedal-pushers, between Blahniks and Jimmy Choos, between pink sapphire and pink tourmaline, etc. They were men of few words, and when they paid compliments, those compliments were generally rooted in something they noticed physically as opposed to fashionably :)

Hope this gives a bit more of an idea as to my approach for writing dialogue, Julie, and I thank you for your questions!

Happy week wishes,


Julie Robinson said...

Thanks for the detailed response, Shawna! Wow!!

You're right about men not talking much during sex, which bothers me some when I read a hero pouring out words during this time. It may be words a female like to hear (and read), but I don't see it as realistic. But then, maybe that's the point---to have a fantasy hero who will act and speak the way the romance reader wants him to. You hit the nail on the head when you said that men you knew paid compliments "rooted in something they noted physically as opposed to fashionably." That just clicked with me. Thanks.


ShawnaMoore said...

Hi, Julie!

You are quite welcome :) I always cherish opportunities to share my thoughts about writing and creativity with writers and readers :) Many thanks for sharing your views, too. It's definitely a balancing act--blending the realistic and the fantasy.

Happy week wishes,